Region girls soccer: Land O'Lakes 4, Lecanto 1
LAND O’ LAKES – A late first-half goal bolstered visiting Lecanto, whose sense of clear momentum carried up to fans and placed Land O’Lakes a little bit on its heels despite a 2-1 lead Friday.
The Gators had to match Lecanto’s push. They did much more than that.
Land O’ Lakes (21-2-2) romped the rest of the way, defeating Lecanto 4-1 to advance to the Class 3A state semifinals for a third straight season. This will be the first time the Gators host a final four game though, next Friday against Jacksonville Stanton.
“We never slow down our attack – ever,” said Gators senior Haley Eckel, anchor of a defensive unit that was tested far more than normal, and also answered back strongly.
Indeed after Sydny Nasello put in her team-high 19th goal making it 3-1 with a half hour left, the Gators played like the team that was behind.
“A two-goal lead is the worst in soccer, you saw that when they cut it to 2-1. The way we responded, you saw, is how the game played out,” Nasello said.
The dreaded two-goal advantage was put to bed on the funkiest goal of the night.
With 10 minutes left Nasello spun around a defender on the right touchline and crossed in a high ball that got through the defense. Devyn Cabral dropped the ball out to defender Carissa Dixon, ostensibly to regroup the attack but instead she launched a moon shot from 30 yards that fooled the Lecanto keeper and dropped inside the right post.
“It was a shot all the way. I’m just glad it went in,” said Dixon.
It was a physical game throughout, but well officiated and with mutual respect shown on both sides; afterwards, Lecanto coaches and players said “go win state” to the Gators.
After a shaky start – Cabral said “my first touch is terrible” after she was subbed in the first half – the Gators looked to be in control.
Nasello, marked by as many as five Panthers at one point, smartly turned assister for the first goal. Natalie Abernathy sent Nasello into the right corner, and she spotted Cabral, who earlier this week committed to Erskine College (S.C.). It was Cabral’s seventh goal.
Eckel’s corner kick in the 33rd minute was headed home perfectly by Morghan Craven for 2-0, but the Panthers (20-5-1) responded shortly after an injury to Katie Vancleef, whose sister Emma put on her back in a touching scene. Vancleef did not return and was unable to put weight on her heavily-iced ankle after the game.
Talented forward Andrea Javier scored four minutes before the break, but Land O’Lakes was able to match, then slowly but certainly surpass the Panthers’ level of play.
"They’re a very good team, and their forwards are fast. No. 11 (Javier) is very tall. But I feel when we have to, we know to pick up our intensity,” Eckel said.
It helped that they played Dec. 12, a 3-1 Gators win.
“They were physical, and the refs let us play which was good,” said Gators coach Vicky King. “We were a little nervous to start, then we settled down, then they got the goal back. I told them at this time of year, you have to be physical, especially in the penalty box. You don’t have to be pretty, just get the job done.”
Which the Gators did, and now they hope to finish the job. Two seasons ago they fell in overtime in the state final, then in the semis last year, both to American Heritage. Both of those state semis were at neutral sites.
"We’re going to have home-field advantage for this one. The crowd should be huge,” Nasello said. “Our fans can actually watch us… and not on a television screen.”