TAMPA — They admitted there were some early-game jitters, which would be expected from a team making its first appearance at state.
But second-year Steinbrenner expected to be playing for a Class 4A state championship.
That’s why the Warriors packed their non-district schedule with tests against state-caliber programs that would prepare them for exactly this moment — surviving a nail biter.
And the Steinbrenner team that made a habit of prevailing in close games this season won its biggest yet, beating fellow state tournament newcomer Harmony 1-0 in a Class 4A state semifinal Thursday at University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium.
“That’s absolutely the reason we’re here,” Steinbrenner coach Teresa Patterson said of her team’s schedule. “We’ve learned how to win those 1-0 games.”
It was the Warriors’ sixth 1-0 win — one that was decided on a Marissa Maries goal in the second minute of play — and earned
Steinbrenner a title match date with Merritt Island on Saturday, when the Warriors can win the school’s first state title in any sport.
“I told everybody before the game that I thought we needed to score in the first five minutes,” junior forward Cici Gonzalez said. “And once we did that, the game was ours. Once you score that early, it puts the other team’s heads down immediately.”
The Warriors (20-2-2), whose only two losses this season came to ESPN Rise No. 2 Newsome and Class 2A state qualifier Tampa Prep, scored off Gonzalez’s free kick from the right side, which was relayed near the goal by senior Carly Keene and finished by Maries.
It was the first time Harmony (17-2) has trailed since mid November, the Longhorns’ only previous loss of the season, a 2-0 defeat to Vero Beach.
“It was hard,” Harmony coach Stephanie Jones said. “We’re used to being the one that’s attacking out first, so for us, this was a brand new world. That early goal just kind of did us in.”
The Warriors held Harmony to just two shots. Steinbrenner had only three, but had three times more scoring opportunities on set pieces. The Warriors held possession and dominated the attack for most of the game.
Nerves now conquered, the Warriors have one win to reach their ultimate goal.
“We’re a second-year school, but we’re not second-year soccer players,” Gonzalez said. “We all want this as bad as anyone. We deserve it, I think. We’ve worked so hard and I think we’re going to do our best.”