LUTZ — If Steinbrenner coach Chad Ebright derived anything from Thursday night’s match aside from numb fingers, it was the knowledge his second-year program can play with anyone around.
On a night when the action was as fast and physical as the air was frigid, the Warriors (5-1-2) fell to north Tampa rival Gaither by a head. Cowboys senior Zach Wheeler’s 54th-minute header — off Jacob Snidle’s high entry pass from about 30 yards out — was the difference in a 1-0 Gaither win.
“When we’re on our game we’re as good as anybody,” Ebright said. “It didn’t fall our way tonight. We had several good opportunities, we just couldn’t finish.”
Against a Cowboys squad (6-0-1) that entered with four consecutive shutouts, the Warriors watched numerous chances sail just awry or fall into the hands of senior keeper John Nardozzi. Other offensive rushes were cleared out by a Gaither defense that flooded the back after Wheeler’s goal.
Among Steinbrenner’s dozen shots: Enrique Barboto’s shot in front of the net — off a Phillip Jorge cross — that went wide left, and freshman Austin Labban’s left-footed shot — stopped by Nardozzi — from the goal box’s right corner.
Similarly, Gaither, which played without No. 2 scorer Jordan See (hamstring) in the second half, missed a chance when junior Paul Barrett’s point-blank attempt directly in front of the net in the 26th minute sailed high.
“I was impressed with the way they knocked the ball around,” said Cowboys coach Eric Sims, whose team travels to Sickles tonight for a Class 5A, District 9 showdown.
“These kids all know each other, so it’s going to be a physical contest. You could see before the game everybody’s hugging, they battled during the game and everybody hated each other, and after the game everybody’s hugging again, which is great.”