NEW PORT RICHEY — Bryce Wilson’s two goals on Friday propelled Wiregrass Ranch to a 2-0 victory over River Ridge in a meeting of teams on a playoff path.
The clubs will be the No. 2 seeds in their respective district tournaments, behind only the top two teams in the county Mitchell and Sunlake. Friday’s early action suggested a tossup but as the game progressed River Ridge grew weary in its fourth game in five days.
“You saw some heavy legs tonight,” Knights coach Michael McHugh said. “And it’s tough when you have to play a quality team like Wiregrass in the fourth game.”
But thanks to goalkeeper Tyler Manaras, River Ridge hung around. He had 11 saves including three in a 30-second sequence — denying Tristan Hart in close, then knocking away Matt Bradshaw’s rebound and finally thwarting Doug Nolting on the resulting corner kick — to keep it 1-0 at halftime.
And with 20 minutes left, when Manaras came up with a reflex save on Maurice Lewis’ leaping header, the Bulls couldn’t help but worry River Ridge might steal a point.
“That was in the back of our minds,” Wilson said. “In the first half we played some of our best soccer this season.”
Finally he secured the victory with 10 minutes left. On Andy Hippley’s cross, Wilson got just enough of his left shoelaces on the ball to sneak it inside the left post. It was the Bulls’ 20th shot and gave Wilson his 20th goal this season.
At that point the Knights (11-4-2) only had three shots in the half, all from Jason Navas. They later threatened only to be stopped by Bulls goalie Alex Cypriano, and once by the crossbar on defender Marko Sevic’s strike.
River Ridge had won four straight, including Monday’s 1-0 defeat of Land O’Lakes that secured the No. 2 seed in 3A-8. Wiregrass (14-1-2) has won six in a row since falling to Mitchell, the team that has the top seed ahead of the Bulls in 4A-8.
Wiregrass had some top-rate buildup in the first half. The best saw Hippley juke past two defenders and cross to Sean Sourk, who headed the ball down to Wilson, but offsides took the goal away. Another three-way play resulted in a goal at 20 minutes, with Chris Faddoul sending Sourk, then Wilson burying the cross into the roof of the goal.
Still the Knights very nearly tied it before half thanks to Jason Dovydaitis, who outworked two defenders and set up a teammate on the doorstep only to have his header go well over the goal.
“We played very well in the first half, a little rag-tag in the second but some of that was due to the (soggy) field conditions,” Bulls coach David Wilson said. “Overall I’m very pleased with the direction we’re headed.”