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TAMPA — Steinbrenner coach Teresa Patterson hadn’t been sold on Lauren Laughlin’s flip throw-in.
Patterson thought it was “a bit of a gimmick.” She was more interested in execution. And of all the times the Warriors used it this season, even Laughlin admitted it rarely led to a goal.
Any reluctance aside, when Steinbrenner needed an extra boost against defending Class 4A state champ Merritt Island, Laughlin’s acrobatic move did just the trick.
Seven minutes into a sudden-death overtime, Laughlin sprinted forward for a throw-in, did a front flip and sling-shot the ball off the track and in front of the net. Teammate Carly Keene was there to head in the golden goal that gave Steinbrenner a 2-1 win and the Class 4A state championship — the school’s first state title in any sport — Saturday afternoon at the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium.
“I wasn’t really a big fan of it,” Patterson said of the flip throw-in. “She used to do it in practice and I’d tell her, ‘You know I think you throw just as far without it.’ But she’s like, ‘No, Coach, just wait.’ And look at her pulling it out at this time.”
Keene, a UT commit who scored the winning goal on her future college field, encouraged Laughlin to try the throw-in after seeing her do a flip during practice.
“At first it was a little hard because I landed on my back a couple times, but it just took practice,” Laughlin said. “The more I did it the more comfortable I got. When I first started I could get it to the front post, but the more I practiced I could get it to the far post.”
The win capped a remarkable run for the Warriors (21-2-2), who saw everything go right in the postseason. They struggled with corner kicks, then avenged last year’s region semifinal loss to Lakewood Ranch on one. Senior Marissa Maries spent most of the season struggling to find the net, then scored two goals in the state tournament.
“It’s crazy because so much has happened in these last few games that we have been working on all season that just hadn’t happened for us,” junior forward Cici Gonzalez said. “Everything just came together for us. I believed in us the whole time. I knew we could get this.”
Maries gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead by heading in Danielle Eule’s cross in the 16th minute. But when Merritt Island’s Kirstie Schults tied the score on a rebound with 13 seconds left, it seemed to deflate the Warriors.
With 20 minutes left in regulation, Steinbrenner was gassed. The Mustangs’ speed and depth — the Warriors’ bench has been depleted by three ACL injuries this season — took its toll on Steinbrenner, but Merritt Island (23-4-1) couldn’t take advantage.
“They were pressuring hard and we were getting exhausted,” Keene said. “But we got an adrenaline shot once sudden death started.”
Winning the coin toss, and being able to shoot with the wind, also helped. The Warriors dictated pace throughout overtime, and when Laughlin spun her throw-in into the air, about 15 yards in front of the net, Keene, Steinbrenner’s tallest player at 5-foot-11, moved in for the winner.
“We were on our heels a bit, but to respond in overtime and just do that is amazing,” Patterson said.
Steinbrenner might be a second-year school, but the core of this team attended Martinez Middle School and plays club soccer for HC United. So these Warriors were far from an unlikely champion.
“I don’t think there was ever a time when we weren’t looking to win it all,” Gonzalez said. “We’re all skilled. We all know how to play soccer.
“In soccer we all want to be the best. And I don’t think the fact that we were a second-year school meant we couldn’t do this.”