Region boys soccer: Plant City 3, Orlando Freedom 2 (2OT)
PLANT CITY – The idea of a team as a family is nothing new, but when it comes to leaning on each other, picking each other up, and coming through when your family needs you, to a man, Plant City’s boys soccer players believes in the mantra.
Saturday night with Plant City’s two captains Eric Ugarte and Ronaldo Rodriguez needing significant time on the bench, strength sapped by illness, the rest of the Raiders answered the call against a talented Orlando Freedom side, eventually sealing a Class 5A region final berth when an Epifanio Castro corner kick found the flying head of Ricardo Rosales for the 3-2, double-overtime win.
“It feels amazing to get that game-winning goal,” Rosales said. “I felt like we had it the whole match, but to score the (final goal) was like a dream.”
Rosales said the team never questioned the outcome, even with two of its leaders off the field for large chunks of time.
“Whether they are on or off the pitch we are going to play at 100 percent. We are a family,” Rosales said. “We play for each other, and always have each others backs.”
For Plant City (16-0-2) the absence of Ugarte through the first 20 minutes of play was a noticeable one as the speed of the offense wasn’t quite there. Ugarte has at least one goal or assist in 12 of the Raiders' wins. Freedom controlled the ball on the offensive side through much of the first half, but neither team had many early chances.
Plant City took the lead in the 34th minute as Andrew Sotello fired a shot off an advancing Freedom (22-4-2) keeper, settled the deflection back to him and sent a long shot to the far corner of the net.
The Patriots evened the match in the second half as Keoki McGowan changed sides with a cross and Camilo Baquero was there for an open look and score.
The Raiders defense was solid keeping the Patriots from finding much offense inside the box as seniors Dylan Brown and Zachary Mitchell, sophomore Alexis Garcia and freshman Rex Lott were consistently clearing things out the whole match.
“They stepped up in a huge way,” coach Caleb Roberts said. “Stuck to the game plan for the second game in a row and kept those guys in front of them the whole time.”
The Raiders got a late lead in the 69th minute as Castro drilled a left-footed shot from distance that slipped just inside the post.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Freedom answered a few minutes later when Fernando Abreu hit a 40-yard equalizer with minutes to play in regulation.
“We knew going in that if they hit one of those long ones, we’d take that lump,” Roberts said. “And we took a lump there, but that was the plan don’t let them behind and don’t give up any breakaways, and the defense stood strong in overtime.”
Both teams managed a shot on goal in the first overtime, but also got excellent play from the goalkeepers as both Freedom’s Connor Smallwood and Plant City’s Gustavo De La Garza made eight saves in the match.
Plant City will travel to Lakewood Ranch on Tuesday for the Class 5A region final, as the Mustangs defeated Palm Harbor University 4-3 Saturday night.