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CLEARWATER — Throughout regulation, Countryside kept finding open spaces in front in the net. But Bloomingdale goalkeeper Austin Spagnola kept thwarting shots, including two diving saves in the first half.
The Bulls (15-3-3) did not have much luck against Cougars (22-1-1) goalkeeper Danny George either. George, who has great reflexes and instinctive positioning, also proved a proficient shot blocker. He made several spectacular saves, including a one-handed deflection on a hard shot that came across his body.
This is how it was for most of Thursday’s Class 6A region quarterfinal, with both teams pushing the ball past midfield and into position to score, only to watch shots fall into the hands of the keeper. After 80 minutes of soccer, a handful of legitimate opportunities and no goals, the game went to overtime.
Five minutes into the first overtime, Countryside’s Jagger Martinez ended it with one swipe of his foot. Receiving a through-ball from Derya Ekren down the left side, Martinez dribbled past one defender and nailed his shot to give the Cougars a 1-0 victory.
Afterward, the Cougars rushed to engulf Martinez. The Bloomingdale players, meanwhile, slumped to the turf.
“We just had to stay patient,” Countryside coach Dave Sica said. “Both keepers were phenomenal. This is probably one of the better keeper matches I’ve seen in a long time.”
It was a matchup that most anticipated would happen in next week’s region semifinals. But the Bulls were upset in the district final. So teams that were both nationally ranked at the beginning of the season squared off. Locked in a scoreless fight most of the night, Martinez said he finally figured out how to get the ball past Bloomingdale’s last line of defense when it mattered.
“We just had to find a weakness against their keeper, which was hard to do,” Martinez said. “It seemed that he wasn’t as great with the ball on the ground. Once I got the ball in overtime, I knew what I had to do and snuck it on the ground to win.”