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TAMPA — Away from the bright spotlight of their first state championship match in school history, Berkeley Prep practiced penalty kicks every practice, just 10 minutes from the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium.
After 100 minutes of soccer — two 40-minute halves and a pair of 10-minute overtime sessions — the Buccaneers’ season came down to a shootout Saturday against defending champ Plantation American Heritage.
Berkeley, which entered Pepin Stadium unbeaten in 21 of its past 22 matches, dominated the Patriots throughout much of the game, dictating the pace with possession soccer in the first half, then pressuring the net in both overtimes.
But in soccer, the shootout is the momentum killer, and American Heritage deflated Berkeley by a 4-2 PK advantage to claim the Class 3A state title 1-0.
“They’ve been in this situation before,” Berkeley junior back Taylor Richardson said. “We’ve never been here. Maybe they knew how to handle it better. We played a great game, but probably the only way you really know how to handle it is if you’ve been there before.”
The Patriots made all four of their penalty kicks, the final one a shot by freshman Alyssa Robinson, whose first touch of the game was deflected by keeper Bryane Heaberlin but bounced past her into the net.
“It was pretty stressful,” said Heaberlin, a U.S. national team U-17 player. “You never know what’s going to happen. You just try your best.”
Berkeley nearly won seven minutes into the first overtime when forward Sam Newhaller beat the keeper, but a defender swooped in and cleared the ball in front of an open net.
The Bucs brought their muscle, backed by Heaberlin, who made several loss-preventing saves in the second half.
“Even after walking off this field and losing, we didn’t play a match where I thought the other team was better,” Berkeley coach Ken Roberts said. “This is the way a game ends.”
For American Heritage, it was their sixth state title since 2000. But even the Patriots had their doubts. They lost the 2006 title match in PKs, and had been bad on penalty kicks recently in practice.
“As soon as the game ended, my team was already in tears, thinking we’re going to lose,” coach Phil Zayas said.
But American Heritage keeper Mikaela Barboza stopped two of Berkeley’s first four PKs.
“There is no question whether we were the better team or not,” Bucs senior midfielder Danielle Manning said. “For sure, we should have won.”
For a Berkeley team that included 10 seniors, many of whom have played together since eighth grade, they leave knowing they took the program to new heights. In three previous state tournament appearances, they had never advanced to the title match.
“Two years ago I told this group they were the most talented group we’d ever have come through this program,” said Roberts, Berkeley’s 30-year coach. “They absolutely proved it. Their work ethic was incredible. That wasn’t coaches pushing players. That was players pushing each other. It’s not coachable.”
Photo: Berkeley Prep's Megan Williams and American Heritage Plantation's Melanie Meyer battle for the ball. EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times