TAMPA — Gaither had to dispatch its top rival for a chance to face its biggest foe.
The host Cowboys got three second-half goals to rally and defeat neighborhood rival Sickles 3-2 Wednesday night.
Gaither (10-4-2) will face Freedom at 7 p.m. Friday for the district crown.
The Cowboys advanced despite being outmuscled by Sickles in the opening half as the Gryphons took a 2-0 lead on scores from Alexis Rodriguez and Catie Nowak.
But the Cowboys stormed back in the second half, taking advantage of scoring chances and getting goals from Taylor Meek and Samantha Knowles to tie the score.
Gaither, the tournament’s top seed, got the winning goal from Kaycee McGuire on a free kick with eight minutes left in the match.
“The girls didn’t give up,” said Gaither coach Trevor Scott. “Not one girl had her head down. They were nervous in the beginning but they fought back and never quit.”
Freedom advanced to Friday’s title match after holding off Hillsborough with a 1-0 victory. The win came for the second-seeded Patriots (10-1-3) less than a week after ending the regular season with a 0-0 tie against Hillsborough. It also came with three starting defenders out with various ailments.
Freedom avoided going scoreless again versus the Terriers 15 minutes into the second half on a breakaway goal by junior midfielder Jenna Stiling.
The Patriots made their lead stand up from that point, thwarting any Hillsborough (10-5-2) momentum.
“Tonight we got that early goal and that was key for us,” said Freedom coach Jenna Ball.