BROOKSVILLE — One season after winning the first district title in school history, Nature Coast walked away from the Class 3A, District 7 tournament with a second straight championship.
It wasn’t nearly as easy as last year, but the Sharks fended off Hudson before winning 2-1 via penalty kicks.
“Ideally, every coach would like to end the game during one of the two overtimes,” Nature Coast coach Lisa Masserio said, “but because of the confidence I have in our team, I felt good about where we were.”
The teams split their regular-season series, trading 2-1 victories at each other’s home fields. Nature Coast (19-3-1) hoped to break the trend but fell behind in the first half after Caroline DiMonda deflected a free kick from Marissa Speavy past keeper Samantha Oliveira.
The physical nature of the match (35 total fouls) began to emerge with a yellow card dished out to Hudson standout Dominique Cirnigliaro midway through the first half. Before it was over, four yellow cards were handed out, two to each side.
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Cirnigliaro was lost for the remainder of the night when she took an inadvertent knee to her right wrist. Helped off the field, the 53-goal scorer did not return for the Cobras (21-5-1).
“If she was good, she would have played, but we need to get X-rays on that arm to see the extent of the damage,” Hudson coach Stephen Jones said. “She has some pain, but we won’t know for sure until the doctor takes a look.”
Without Cirnigliaro on the field, the Hudson offense sputtered and Nature Coast took advantage. Only four minutes after she left the field, Hailey LaLande fired a shot at Cobra keeper Brittany Wilkins. Having one of the best games of her prep career, Wilkins made the save, but the ball ricocheted off a Hudson defender into the net to tie the score.
Wilkins (13 saves) went on to make two amazing saves before the regulation ended to keep her team alive.
Two fruitless overtime sessions took the contest to penalty kicks, and Oliveira (eight saves) stood tall, saving the first two attempts from Hudson, including one from Cirnigliaro, who was well enough to shoot in the session. It was a situation that the senior keeper was ready for.
“I work on (penalty kicks) with my father all the time,” Oliveira said. “I thrive on that time of the game.”
LaLande scored on the first Nature Coast penalty attempt and never looked back. Jayna Tyler and Rosie Witherell added closing goals as well to cap the session.