TAMPA — Chance after frantic chance Countryside had in its hand Friday in its 2-1 loss to Weston Cypress Bay in the Class 6A state semifinals, each one more tempting and frustrating than the other. Finally, desperation seemed to tighten like a noose, strangling the Cougars’ patience and accuracy.
In the end, Countryside’s Derya Ekren had a chance for a corner kick to try to tie the game but could not get the shot off before time expired.
Afterward, the Cougars slumped to the ground, each enveloped in his own silent misery before trudging off the field at the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium.
“It’s pretty difficult to handle,” Countryside goalkeeper Hunter Maricle said. “It’s hard to have the season come down to this.”
The Cougars (24-2-1) entered the game as the No. 9 team in the nation according to the latest ESPN Rise poll. But Countryside was lethargic early as Cypress Bay dictated the pace.
Within the first 10 minutes, the Lightning took the lead as Carlos Vargas, the team’s leading scorer, knocked in a high shot that sailed just above Maricle’s reach.
“For the first 20 minutes or so we were flat,” Cougars coach Dave Sica said. “We were just stunned and lost our composure for a little bit. But the sign of a good team is being able to answer back, and we did.”
Three minutes after Cypress took the lead, Countryside tied the game as Ekren cut back to his left and hit a shot to make it 1-1.
“Things go back and forth and momentum swinging in either team’s direction,” Ekren said. “It just didn’t go our way. But there is nothing to regret.”
The score remained 1-1 at the half. Both teams had chances in the second half but were not able to convert. The Cougars twice had shots deflected off the goalkeeper’s hands.
Then with 6:38 remaining in regulation, the Lightning went on a counterattack and got the ball over the top of the defense. Maricle came charging out from the net to stop a potential shot, but Vargas popped the ball free to Andres Torres, 5 yards from the goal.
Torres accelerated as everything around him seemed to slow down, he said later, and he punched the ball into an empty net. Torres ran to the corner flag, then sprinted up near the sidelines as his teammates converged on him in celebration.
“There’s nothing like getting a game-winning goal,” Torres said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
There was still time left, and Countryside tried to push the ball up but could not get another shot on goal.
“We had faced adversity all season, and we played until the final whistle,” Sica said. “You have to get lucky breaks along the way to win a state title. We didn’t tonight.”