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SPRING HILL — In four trips to regionals under coach Polo Furlong, Springstead had never advanced past the quarterfinals. But his current team was determined to change that.
The Eagles hosted Plant City on Thursday night in a Class 5A region quarterfinal and were able to pull out a 4-3 victory in penalty kicks after working through adversity throughout the match.
“We had the heart to win it tonight,” Furlong said. “We are a second-half team, and we pushed through when we had to.”
Springstead (11-5-2) allowed the first goal but went to the half tied 1-all with the Raiders (15-6-1) after Kayla Montealegre scored on a game-changing play.
Tara Vasquez was dribbling up-field on Plant City keeper Kiestra Castagno when a collision left the net-minder on the ground and Montealegre was able to put the ball in the net. Castagno was helped off the field and replaced by freshman Emma Mitchell.
Once the second half rolled around, the Eagles really fell behind when Plant City scored twice to go up 3-1.
The flurry of offense upset Springstead keeper Monica Vega so much that she stormed off the field. Sophomore Emma Betters was quick to step in and pick up the slack.
“You get your hopes up that nothing is going to happen, but sometimes you have to deal with 17-year-old minds,” Furlong said. “Thankfully, Emma played terrific. We have confidence in her, and she’s always been solid for us.”
Betters made six saves in the second half and both overtimes while not allowing a goal, and Springstead got back into the game.
With 23 minutes left in regulation, Kimberly Smith laced a shot just under the crossbar and over the outstretched arms of Plant City’s Mitchell on a free kick from 35 yards out. The goal cut the lead to 3-2.
As the clock wound to only 8:56, the Eagles tied the score as Ashley Walker scored on a pass from Heleigh McDuff.
Two scoreless overtimes led to penalty kicks. Furlong reinserted a composed Vega into net. In an odd twist of fate, the player who kicked off the scoring, the Raiders’ Nidia Castro, missed the final kick to clinch the Springstead win.