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TAMPA — Berkeley Prep has waited a long time for its first state title game berth.
Thursday’s Class 3A state semifinal against Pensacola Catholic marked the Bucs’ fourth trip to state, and the pesky Crusaders, who trekked 469 miles from the Panhandle to the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium, stood in their way of making history.
Pensacola Catholic had held opponents scoreless in 19 of 22 games this season, so the Bucs knew scoring opportunities would be rare. And the Crusaders’ way of packing the goal with defenders wouldn’t make offense any easier.
That’s why Berkeley senior Sam Newhaller’s goal in the third minute was so important.
“It just felt like a huge load came off us,” Newhaller said. “I thought, ‘Now we have the lead and we just have to keep the lead and keep possessing.’ We did a very good job of doing that.”
That lone goal was all the Bucs (21-4-2), a team with 10 seniors, would need to beat Pensacola Catholic 1-0.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for like five years now, just waiting to be here,” said junior back Taylor Richardson, a contributor since she was in seventh grade. “This is exactly where I was hoping we’d be.”
The Bucs head into Saturday morning’s championship 20-1-1 in their past 22 matches. And Thursday, their recipe for success was true to form: get a lead, possess the ball and work the width of the college-sized field.
“They played like they had been playing together for a very, very long time,” said Pensacola Catholic coach Breck Bankester, a former standout keeper at USF. “It showed.”
The goal, which came when Taylor Batye flicked the ball to Newhaller off Danielle Manning’s throw-in, was a rare Berkeley opportunity.
“If we don’t score early, we might have psyched ourselves out,” Richardson said.
Pensacola Catholic (20-3) had fed on frustrating opponents. In the region final, Jacksonville Bolles peppered sophomore keeper Sarah Grace Lowrey with 30 shots but couldn’t score, and PC won in penalty kicks to clinch its first state tournament berth.
“We had the chances, but with them packing it in front of the goal, we didn’t have many chances to take so we had to pull the ball out and try to find other chances to get at the goal,” Newhaller said.