LAND O’LAKES — About the only thing that could slow Wiregrass Ranch sophomore forward A.J. Blount in Thursday’s Class 4A, District 8 semifinal against Lecanto was a bout of severe cramping in both legs.
Blount missed about 25 minutes after falling to the grass early in the second half, clutching at her hamstrings. She limped off the field with help from her teammates, but she had already left her impression on the match.
Blount put Wiregrass Ranch on the scoreboard first with a perfectly-placed header in the 14th minute and added a second goal in the 46th to give the Bulls an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
With six minutes to go, Blount reentered and scored an insurance goal in the closing seconds to record a hat trick in a 4-1 Wiregrass Ranch victory.
“There was so much space available, and we were able to use it to help us win,” she said.
Sixth-seeded Lecanto (9-6-7) tied the score with just under 16 minutes remaining in the first half when Ashley Irizarry made a nice move to get the ball on her right foot and unleashed a bending shot that found the top corner of the far post. The score was tied 1-1 at halftime.
“We started hanging our heads a little bit at that point,” Blount said. “We just had to keeping telling ourselves, ‘We’ve got this. We’ve got this.’ ”
Second-seeded Wiregrass Ranch (20-2-2) wasted little time regaining the lead. Sierra Monday pushed a rebound off a corner kick just across the goal line 1:30 into the second half to make it 2-1. Then Blount finished off the Panthers with her 37th and 38th goals of the season.
Wiregrass Ranch meets top-seeded River Ridge tonight.
The Royal Knights shut out fifth-seeded Nature Coast for the third time this season, 3-0 in Thursday’s nightcap. River Ridge (20-2-2) held Nature Coast without a shot on goal.
“That’s something we’ve improved on all year, holding the ball and not giving the other team opportunities,” River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. “And I think we did pretty well at it. We just didn’t finish.”
Keeper Jeri Loffler made 13 saves to keep the Sharks (9-10-3) from getting blown out.
River Ridge broke through in the 23rd minute when Laura Cason slammed home a cross deep in the box from Jenny Karl. Karl gave the Royal Knights a 2-0 lead when she sneaked a shot inside the near post with 32 minutes to go. Taylor Antioco added a late score for River Ridge.
In two regular-season meetings, Wiregrass and River Ridge combined for 19 goals.