Region girls soccer: St. Petersburg 1, Estero 0
ST. PETERSBURG — Funny how one fortunate bounce can erase an hour of potential frustration.
But when St. Petersburg freshman Holly Beaver's left wing pass deflected off of sophomore Caroline DeWitt's hip, the ball luckily flew over the Estero defense to the foot of freshman Lexi Hiltunen. Her one-timer 8 eight yards out blazed past Wildcat keeper Sarah Smith, eventually giving the Green Devils a 1-0 victory Friday night and a berth in the Class 4A state semifinals.
St. Petersburg (17-2) advances to its first final four since 2006.
To that point, DeWitt and Hiltunen had some strong opportunities go south.
Eleven minutes into play, DeWitt fielded a strong Hiltunen pass near the left post but saw her shot be cleared off the goal line by defender Gigi Miano. A minute later, Hiltunen split the Estero defense clean but Smith was able to snag her shoulder-high laser. And halfway through the second half, Hiltunen's tackle and cross glanced off Smith's hands to junior Francesca Ycasa, whose shot flew wide right.
"I was very frustrated with my first shot," Hiltunen said. "I was super close to the goal and all I had to do was place it."
But the youthful Green Devils weren't rattled by the missed opportunities.
"After the misses, we just had to keep going to the goal, keep taking shots" said DeWitt.
"We play five freshmen and three sophomores, and for a group of 14- and 15-year-olds, it's unbelievable," said St. Petersburg coach Rui Farias. "It's like they've been playing together for 20 years. They've just been getting better and better."
"We all calmed down as a team," Hiltunen said after the near misses. "We didn't want to play kickball, we wanted to possess it just like Coach Farias taught us."
That patience continued to pay off with strong offensive possession time, culminating with Hiltunen's 25th goal of the season, another four-star opportunity with 3:20 left that Smith dove to tip away, and impressively physical play throughout the evening.
St. Petersburg's offensive prowess also put extra pressure on Estero (18-3-3) when it got into scoring range, forcing hurried and errant shots.
"I felt they were rushing their shots," said sophomore keeper Angeline Friel (six saves). "Our defense (seniors Alex Calhoun and Josie Barnhart with freshman Sophia Vesely) was ready, rested and stopped shots from happening."
"We honestly had no idea (coming into this season) that we'd make it this far," Hiltunen said. "We knew if we played with the heart we started to develop and grew with, we'd make it. Now our ultimate goal is to go to states and win. We're just one game away from that chance."