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TAMPA — The most improbable high school playoff run in recent history ended Friday night. While St. Petersburg Catholic didn’t become the most unlikely state champion, the Barons can officially be crowned the happiest state runnersup.
Considering the Barons went into the district tournament with a 7-11 record and zero expectations then rode a crazy wave of good fortune and timely scoring to even get to this point, the 2-0 loss to Miami Gulliver Prep in the Class 3A state final didn’t leave quite the emotional bruise it usually does at this level.
“I am so pleased with the result, so happy,” senior defender Emily DiVito said. “There is no better place to end my high school career.”
The Barons, who advanced three games further than they ever had in the playoffs, finished 13-12.
There was no mistaking Gulliver Prep, which finished the season 29-0, was the class of the championship game at the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium.
The Raiders controlled the ball a large majority of the game, outshot SPC 10-1 and left a handful of other good chances in the Barons’ end in winning their first title in four trips to the championship.
Despite all that, SPC might have played a better game than it did in its semifinal win the day before.
The Barons were able to mark out the Raiders’ 50-goal scorer, Dara Spital, and keeper Maggie Dalessio lived up to her new-found rock-star status.
The junior made 13 saves to keep the game closer than many expected, a day after stopping three penalty kicks against Lake Highland Prep.
“She’s been a rock star since her freshman year,” coach Gary Kolb said. “Those saves you saw the last two days? She’s been doing it since then.”
One of those saves, a point-blank shot off her face as she came out to challenge a Gulliver Prep player, sent her to the ground and out of the game for a bit in the first half.
But she returned and after the game put her arms around the team trainer and asked for ice for her jaw before heading off for a series of long, tearful hugs with her teammates.
The Raiders got goals from Paulina Speckmaier in the first half and Sarah Darmanin in the second.
The Barons couldn’t keep the pressure off Dalessio, nor did they have the speed to counterattack.
The Barons, however, had no trouble matching Gulliver Prep in postgame jubilation.
As the teams lined up for the awards ceremony, the only way to distinguish winners from losers was the color of the medals hanging around their necks.