PLANT — The ball sailed into the scrum of players in front of the Wharton goal and Karli Gutsche muscled her way into position. She then worked herself free of a defender and timed her leap to meet the ball with her head.
As the scene unfolded, Newsome coach Kelly Townsend was overcome by a sense of relief on the sideline: she knew the ball was finally going in the net.
“As soon as I saw the corner kick go in the air,” Townsend said, “I knew it was going to be good.”
Gutsche’s header with 13:27 left in the game broke a scoreless tie Thursday, sending Newsome to a 1-0 victory over Wharton in the semifinals of the Class 5A, District 7 tournament.
The Wolves (12-2-3), the district’s No. 2 seed, moved within another victory of their fifth straight district championship. They will play top-seeded Plant in the final Saturday at Dad’s Stadium.
The Panthers (15-1-1) defeated Bloomingdale 1-0 in the other semifinal, getting a goal from Caroline Bado two minutes into overtime.
In a rematch of a game Newsome won 5-1 on Dec. 4, neither team could capitalize on a handful of early scoring opportunities. It seemed as if both teams were headed for a replay of their semifinal matchup last season, when the Wolves prevailed 3-2 after a second round of penalty kicks.
Shortly after halftime, Newsome finally seemed poised for a breakthrough: a corner kick that bounced off the top bar of Wharton’s goal set up a point-blank shot for freshman Tati Kalianiotis.
But Wildcats goalie Courtney Bodamer snuffed out the opportunity and Kalianiotis covered her face with her hands.
“We were getting frustrated,” said Gutsche, a sophomore who is committed to Central Florida. “But we knew we just had to stay with it and eventually something good would happen.”
Her instincts would prove right about 20 minutes later.
Newsome’s Emily Jones — one of only two seniors in the team’s starting lineup — directed a corner kick toward Gutsche, creating the only score of the semifinal.
From there, Wolves junior goalie Alexis Smith made a couple more saves to preserve the team’s ninth shutout of the season.
“I knew eventually that my teammates would come through,” Smith said.
Townsend blamed her team’s early struggles on postseason nerves borne of inexperience, pointing out nine of her starters are underclassmen.
“It was nerve-wracking,” she said. “And in a district like this, you really can’t afford to have a letdown. All seven teams could win district.”
Wharton (14-5-4), which came into the tournament as the third seed, lost its seventh straight game to Newsome. It’s a streak of futility that dates to November 2007.
“I’m disappointed because the opportunities were there,” Wharton coach Denis Vukorep said. “And if you miss out on those chances, you’re not going to win a game like this.”
In the other semifinal, the game played out much the same — a defensive battle that was scoreless for much of the night — but Plant eventually exacted a bit of revenge for its upset loss to Bloomingdale in the same round of last year’s district tournament.
Bado managed to break free from Bloomingdale defenders early into overtime, her best look at the goal all evening. She capitalized on the opportunity, sending the ball into the net and ending the game.
“We left in tears against this team last year,” Plant coach Pam Smith said. “We were determined not to let it happen to us again on our homefield.”
3A-9: Longhorns refuse to quit
TAMPA — King had the rug pulled from under it Thursday night. The Lions led most of the game, outshot and outpressured Lennard but lost 2-1 in the Class 3A, District 9 semifinal on back-to-back lightning strikes by Longhorns freshman midfielder Angie Garcia in the final 10 minutes.
Lennard advanced to regionals for the first time in school history. The Longhorns will face Robinson tonight at King.
After a King 1-0 lead was established on a 25-yard free kick by sophomore Jamie Craig, the game looked like it would be a blowout. The Lions poured on the shots on goal, finishing with 23 to Lennard’s six. Craig navigated the Longhorns’ defense well and it looked to be only a matter of time before King pulled away.
Lennard’s Maggie Santos and goalkeeper Mildred Rodriguez had different ideas. Rodriguez had 13 saves while being under pressure all night and Santos snuffed out several scoring attempts, some inside the 18-yard box.
But things looked grim for the Longhorns, whose only offensive gasps were fastbreaks from Garcia.
“I told the girls at the end of the half that we can’t win if we don’t score,” first-year coach Jennifer Gardner said. “We were stopping them but we needed some offense.”
Gardner addressed the issue by moving Santos up to midfield. It worked for a while until she was injured and the attack slowed down.
Meanwhile, King was pounding away, creating scoring opportunities. Craig had back-to-back shots careen off the crossbar and a third sail just wide.
Then Garcia broke loose on a fastbreak, drew the defense to her right and shot back to her left to tie. Momentum swung quickly and just as King committed to another offensive push, Garcia slipped past again. Two minutes later and almost exactly the same shot, Garcia sent the Longhorns to their first playoff appearance.
In the other semifinal Robinson cruised to an 8-0 mercy ruling against Jefferson. Ruth Seleznik had three goals and an assist and owned the pitch. Hayden Jennewein, Caroline King, Sam Ishee, Laura Osorio and Megan Bohan had goals for the Knights.
A-7: IRC rallies, will face Terrapins
Trailing 2-0 early in the first half of a Class A, District 7 semifinal against host Calvary Christian, Indian Rocks Christian stormed back for a 4-3 victory behind freshman Olivia Ross-Johnson, who scored all four goals.
IRC will play Tampa Prep in tonight’s final. The Terrapins defeated Carrollwood Day 4-0 in the other semifinal.
The Warriors took control at the start with Kerstin Mayes scoring twice. Katie Roeder also had a goal. With less than two minutes remaining, Calvary’s Haley Carpenter appeared to hit a game-tying shot but it was waved off because of a penalty.
Staff writer Bob Putnam and correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this report.