ST. PETERSBURG — In the end, the Ice Man had the answer.
Senior midfielder Quinton Kauchick earned his nickname in elementary school, and that cool came through Friday as underdog Berkeley Prep edged Clearwater Central Catholic, 1-0 for the Class 2A-9 championship.
With two minutes left in the first half, Kauchick outpositioned standout freshman defender Matt Dunn in the box and took a hard shot to the back going for a header. His reward for the pain was a foul and a penalty kick.
“We were both neck-and-neck,” said Kauchick, the Buccaneers’ leading scorer. “It was just whoever wanted it more.”
And Kauchick knew what would happen from there, calmly beating Marauders goalkeeper Dominic Grchan to the top right corner of the net.
“I just knew I was going to score. I just put the ball down and I knew that was it.”
A free-flowing first half turned sticky after the break before a flare of emotions gave CCC (9-7-4) a glimmer of hope. A frenzied scramble in front of Berkeley keeper Ben Milliken saw the Marauders get called for a foul and a Buccaneer react by shoving a CCC player. The Bucs (8-9-4) drew a straight red card and had to play shorthanded for 23 minutes. But only in the final minute did CCC challenge thanks to a fierce, hustling Berkeley defense.
“The goal picked up our spirits, but the red card brought us together,” Kauchick said. “Everyone worked harder. It wasn’t individual, it was all about each other.”
In the final minute, Dunn looked to make amends with a header, but Milliken deflected the ball off the crossbar and out.
“At the end, you know there’ll be one big shot that the defense will have to get or I’ll get,” Milliken said. “I couldn’t be happier, we played our butts off.”
And after a rugged regular season schedule led to a sub-.500 finish, a three-game dash to the district title rewards Berkeley Prep with a home game to kick off state tourney play next week.