TAMPA —When a Steinbrenner defender slapped down a ball in the box with 11 minutes to go in a tie game, the district championship on the line, Steinbrenner had its back against the wall.
The penalty resulted in an automatic ejection, and for the second straight game in the 5A-7 district tournament at Alonso, Steinbrenner (16-1-1) was forced to play man down the remainder of the game.
Once again, the Warriors proved they didn’t need to field a whole team to come out on top.
It seemed only fitting that a dramatic overtime goal from 30 yards out would seal the 2-1 victory for Steinbrenner against East Lake and its first boys soccer district title. But his team earning its first district tournament trophy won’t be the only reason Steinbrenner coach Chad Ebright will remember Friday’s game for years to come.
“That may be the best shot I’ve seen, and I’ve been coaching in this county a long time,” Ebright said of Blake Wilson’s winner in the 89th minute. “Top players just step up in any situations. And that’s Blake Wilson.”
After East Lake’s 2-0 semifinal victory against Plant on Wednesday, forward Josh Page said the Eagles looked forward to avenging a 3-1 loss they suffered to the Warriors should they get the chance to play them for the championship. And in Friday’s game, that mindset was evident in the way the Eagles controlled possession from the start.
East Lake (14-2) got on the board first in the 21st minute when midfielder Kevin Grywczynski took advantage of an Eagles throw-in near the goal and knocked it in. Andres Saenz — who scored the second goal for Steinbrenner in its 2-1 semifinal win against Palm Harbor University — scored in the 40th minute to keep the Warriors from trailing at the break.
The Eagles outshot Steinbrenner 8-2 in the second half, but East Lake couldn’t deliver on its chances. After Zachary Yarish’s handball in the box forced his ejection, the Eagles had the opportunity to break the tie with a penalty kick. But when Pierre Goris shot, he missed the goal completely, wide left.
East Lake coach Alex Stenson acknowledged his team had several chances to take a lead, and possibly the game. But as far as he was concerned, those opportunities were missed more often because of Steinbrenner’s defense rather than Eagles’ mistakes.
“They’re such a quality side, they really are, and we knew they were going to be tough and we were going to have to be at our very best,” Stenson said. “I look at Steinbrenner, and they’re probably the best team in the state, to be honest with you. If we can play against them, we can play against anybody.”
For four of the five years Steinbrenner has been open, the boys soccer team has made it to the district championship game, but lost the title. When Wilson’s shot soared into the upper left corner of the goal, the midfielder, arms outstretched, immediately turned to face his teammates.
The Warriors, who lost in the state title game last season, still haven’t reached their ultimate goal, he said. But after Wilson pulled himself out from under a dog pile of his teammates, he couldn’t deny that achieving this one felt pretty good.
“There’s no other feeling like it,” a nearly speechless Wilson said after the game. “It’s the reason you play sports, that feeling right there.”
Sarasota Riverview 1, St. Petersburg 0: St. Petersburg outshot Sarasota Riverview 21-3 but still lost to the Rams in penalty kicks after a goalless regulation and two 10 minute overtimes. Riverview won the penalty kicks 5-3.
St. Petersburg (11-4) will play Thursday at Steinbrenner in the region quarterfinals. Riverview will host East Lake.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Green Devils coach Rui Farias said. “They may have crossed midfield maybe three times the entire match. We had a chance to score two goals in the first four minutes but we shot it long. And then we had shots that looked like they were going in but they would get a foot on it at the last second. It was just one of those nights.”