PALM HARBOR — With a Class 5A region final berth on the line, Palm Harbor University topped Wharton 2-0 Friday night to advance.
“They wanted to get that sour taste out of their mouth. (Last year) was our first time not being in the playoffs in 10 years. To them, they felt they let down the program a little bit so they wanted to really put the program back on top and I think they are doing an excellent job,” Hurricanes coach Alex Delgado said.
After an early Wharton injury timeout, the ’Canes took advantage with senior Charlie Hales chipping one in off a cross from Dylan Haslam less than three minutes in. The first half was met with turnovers from both teams and a slew of referee involvement that ended with the Wildcats’ third-leading goal scorer, Alex Noble, being benched after two double yellows.
“It was a battle. They took us out of our rhythm after the first 20 minutes into the game. …They really battled,” Delgado said.
Through the last 40 minutes Wharton held much of the possession, but at 57:22 Palm Harbor U.’s Codey Iturri finished off a pass from Jose Vega after an awkward clear from the Wildcat defense, sealing the ’Canes’ 2-0 victory.
Wharton’s Keenan Kushner fought off six shots in the second half.
“He is the big boy back there,” Wharton coach Scott Ware said. “He is what gives us confidence in front of him. If we didn’t have him, I mean, it could be a different story all season long. …He kept us in the match. That one big save down there could have been 3-0 real quick. Two goals in a minute. That would have been a dagger. He still gave us hope for the final 15 minutes.”