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Boys soccer: Sunlake takes on Merritt Island in state semifinal

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Thu. February 13, 2014 | Darek Sharp

Boys soccer: Sunlake takes on Merritt Island in state semifinal

The pressure of win-or-go-home soccer tends to bring out the conservative side of many teams.

Once the postseason begins, a 1-0 lead often means it's time to hunker down and play defense. Some teams are even happy to draw and take their chances with penalty kicks.

So today when it takes the field in Melbourne for its Class 3A state semifinal, is there a chance the scoring machine that is Sunlake will turn into one of these defensive-minded teams?

"No. Not whatsoever," coach Sam Koleduk said earlier this week.

In their runup to today's semifinal match against Merritt Island, the Seahawks stayed true to their offensive form. Rather than turtle, Sunlake has kept up the pressure, wearing down its opponents.

A 1-0 game late in the first half turned into an 8-0 mercy-rule win over Nature Coast in the first round. After a 1-1 first half at Citrus, the Seahawks rolled to a 7-1 victory. And in the region final against Matanzas, the first time Sunlake could be excused for dropping back, it got the first goal 48 minutes in then kept pushing in an eventual 3-1 victory.

Of course, this approach is made much easier with a record-breaking sophomore scorer up front.

Last year Connor Gilboy set the Pasco County single-season scoring mark with 60 goals, and Sunlake reached its first state semifinal. Instead of the expected dropoff after Gilboy's graduation, he has been topped.

Remi Pimm surpassed Gilboy's total with a four-goal performance against Citrus and enters today's match with 64, five shy of Sebastian Janikowski's state record.

"It is so nice to have him on the team," said Connor Spencer, the top returning scorer. "It has taken so much pressure off my shoulders."

With Pimm, Spencer (26 goals) and fellow junior Cobi Shirmo (24), Sunlake forces teams to divide their defensive attention. The speedy Shirmo is the toughest to keep up with, Spencer has the heavy shot, and rangy midfielder Chris Wilkinson is also a scoring threat, with 17 goals.

But Pimm simply does it all.

The sophomore even predicted his record success before playing a single varsity game.

"I just visualize it, see myself in scoring situations, and I know what to do," he said, noting that his confidence comes from a lot of practice.

But despite all that firepower, are the Seahawks equipped to win a low-scoring game if they need to?

"A 1-0 lead is all we need," claimed Austin Goble, part of the all-senior, overshadowed group of four defenders that also includes Ryan Norberg, Colin Armstrong and Aaron Aucoin. Another senior, Connor Kallenborn, is a defensive midfielder.

Danny Hrenko, the sophomore goaltender, said: "If we do our job on defense, there's no way we can lose with the offense we have."

Some observers believe Sunlake and Merritt Island are the two best teams left in the tournament and a low-scoring match could be in the cards for today.

But make no mistake, Koleduk wants that first goal. "And an early goal would be nice," he added.

As for the state record? Pimm is aware he needs six goals, not a tall task during the regular season. But if he pulls it off in Melbourne against top competition, it would be hard to envision the Seahawks not bringing home the championship trophy.

But one could be done without the other, and Pimm knows which accomplishment he'd prefer: "I just want a state championship. That's more important."

Class 3A semifinal
Who: Sunlake (30-1-1) vs. Merritt Island (20-1-0)
When/where:
12:30 p.m. today; Eastern Florida State College, Melbourne
Admission: $9
At stake: The winner will play Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee or Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy at 8 p.m. Friday for the state championship.

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