TAMPA — On a crisp west Tampa night, Berkeley Prep coach Tim Cooper saw his scouting report on LaBelle come to glaring fruition.
Clearly, the Cowboys were waiting for his team to come to them, poised to answer the Buccaneers’ offensive flurries with crisp counters.
So at halftime, Cooper assembled his players and summoned his inner Angelo Dundee.
“I just told our guys that this is not going to be a knockout,” Cooper said. “This is going to be a 12-round decision.”
Indeed, the Buccaneers (16-10-2) prevailed on points. As a result, they’re headed to the final four a second consecutive season.
Junior Warren Backman and senior Tyler Sacone punctuated Berkeley’s offensive onslaught with second-half goals, lifting their team to a 2-0 triumph in the Class 2A region final. The Buccaneers travel to Miami Gulliver Prep for Friday’s state semifinals.
“I thought we played really well possessing the ball,” said Cooper, whose team managed 16 shots to LaBelle’s three.
“I told the guys it was just a matter of being patient, it’s going to come. We probably had possession at least 70 (percent of the match). … But I give all the credit to them. They were playing well. Guys were diving, making blocks in front of the keeper.”
Perhaps buoyed by the two busloads of fans who made the 313-mile round-trip journey, the Cowboys’ strategy worked for roughly an hour.
But their failure to clear a corner kick in the 60th minute essentially sealed their fate.
The deflected kick went right at the top of the penalty box to Backman, a left-footed defender who blasted his shot home. About 13 minutes later, Sacone drifted outside the 6-yard box and slice-kicked a through ball to the top right corner of the net.
“They had the sweeper almost on their box the whole time so we could really go at them this game and play our game, which is possession,” said Sacone, one of only three returning starters from last season’s 2A runnerup squad. “And that really tore them apart on the field.”
Steinbrenner 3, Deltona Pine Ridge 1: At Deltona, the Warriors got a hat trick from senior Jason Collister to reach the state semifinals for the first time in the program’s four-year history.
“We’re very happy with making it this far,” said Warriors coach Chad Ebright, whose team hosts Ocala Forest in Friday’s 4A semis. “But we still have a job to do and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”
Collister’s winner, with 27 minutes remaining, followed a tight first half that ended in a 1-all tie. The Warriors missed a penalty kick toward the end of the half.
Collister had put the Warriors on the board first after Pine Ridge misplayed a ball, resulting in a Steinbrenner volley that Collister finished off.
“Jason was big,” Ebright said. “I think the boys didn’t give up. They fought hard … and then we just kept the momentum going the second half.”