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LAND O’LAKES — Kameryn Kailimai sat cross-legged on the cool, black track and calmly sipped from an Avengers cup as the seconds ticked down on her Land O’Lakes team’s biggest win in nine years.
The standout sophomore looked like the level-headed hero an unflappable Gators team needed to rally from a late deficit and snag a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Hudson in Wednesday’s Class 3A region quarterfinals.
“This year nothing has fazed this team,” Gators coach Vicky King said. “They just keep playing.”
They’ll keep playing Saturday against Mitchell after the Gators (18-4-4) earned their first playoff victory since their run to the 2004 state semifinals. And they did it after an unlikely late goal by Hudson (13-7-2) forced Land O’Lakes to score twice in 15 minutes.
The Gators controlled most of the game, racking up 11 shots on goal to the Cobras’ five, but they found themselves tied at the second water break. With 24 minutes left, Hudson’s Sarah Staley launched a long shot from near the midfield circle that nicked the crossbar and goalkeeper Ariana Bailey’s fingers before finding the net.
“I just knew we can’t give up,” Kailimai said. “We got this far. Why stop?”
The Gators didn’t panic or waste any time before finally converting on a scoring chance. Junior Raquel Villareal knocked in a header off of Lacy Nasello’s corner kick less than two minutes later to tie the score at 1.
“She’ll go after anything,” King said of Villareal, a move-in from Texas.
Hudson goalkeeper Brittany Wilkins made a pair of her nine saves after that to keep the score tied before Kailimai calmly put the game away with six minutes left on the scoreboard. Kailimai took a pass from Holly Nasello and broke past the defense, giving one of the Gators’ top scorers her only good opportunity of the night.
“It was just very fast,” Kailimai said. “I just knew I had to get it in the back of the net.”
Kailimai fired a shot left, past a diving Wilkins, to notch her 12th goal of the season and give the Gators another shot at Mitchell, which defeated them 2-1 in November.
“We pulled through,” King said, “and that’s what counts.”
4A: Wiregrass looks sharp in shutout
WESLEY CHAPEL — It’s fair to say Wiregrass Ranch’s A.J. Blount’s first priority Wednesday was to help her team secure a region quarterfinal win over Lakeland.
And after the Bulls scored two quick goals and it became clear quickly the outcome was no longer in doubt, she was able to focus on her second priority.
After being stopped at least a half-dozen times, Blount finally broke through with five minutes left, stealing a ball just past midfield then weaving her way among three defenders to find the back of the net for her only score.
It was more than enough for Wiregrass Ranch — it was the final goal in a dominant 4-0 victory, the first postseason girls soccer win in school history — but still not enough for Blount.
“My mom told me if I scored three tonight I could be off punishment,” said Blount, smiling.
So Blount will serve the final two weeks of her punishment for getting a C on her report card, but she gets to keep playing soccer as the Bulls host George Jenkins on Saturday night.
The USF-bound senior could always plead she had a hand in three goals. It was her cross to Berlin Waters in the first two minutes that set up the senior for her 25th goal to make it 1-0.
After Anne Marie Cypriano put one in off the keeper’s hands from 35 yards to make it 2-0 at halftime, Blount played another ball into the box that Waters headed in to make it 3-0.
While it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Lakeland more thoroughly than Wiregrass Ranch did Wednesday, the Eagles beat the same team 8-0 last week.
But coach Eddy Costa is undaunted.
“These are a bunch of feisty girls that never give up,” he said. “They’re not really ready for the season to end.”
4A: Springstead runs into superior foe
Despite a terrific start to the season, Springstead ran out of momentum at the wrong time, and things came to a crashing halt in Wednesday's Class 4A region quarterfinals.
The Eagles fell 5-0 to host Fleming Island, which continued its undefeated season.
"They were just a far superior team physically," Springstead coach Scott Wern said. "They had a major advantage in skill, and it put us in a tough position."
Springstead (17-5-1) struggled to possess the ball, something Wern counted on in preparing for the game. He put leading scorer Samantha Betters back to provide more help defensively, and although she did a solid job, the Golden Eagles (19-0-2) got 17 shots on goal.
Emma Betters did as well as could be expected for Springstead in net, accruing 12 saves. The Eagles were down only 2-0 at the half.
"Emma did a great job with all things considered," Wern said. "She stepped up and blocked a lot of attempts."
3A: Nature Coast in cruise control
BROOKSVILLE — When the final whistle sounded, the game was far more one-sided than the score indicated.
In only its second region appearance, Nature Coast came away with a 4-0 victory over Palatka in Wednesday night’s Class 3A quarterfinal.
“We had a game plan that really worked for us,” Nature Coast coach Lisa Masserio said. “We knew we had to push the ball, and I feel like the girls did a good job of that.”
The Sharks (17-2-1) set the tone from the start. Possessing the ball as soon as it was dropped, Nature Coast began a barrage of shots on junior keeper Alyssa Curtis. Despite the fact Palatka (18-7-4) didn’t even get the ball into Nature Coast territory until 11 minutes into regulation, Curtis kept the contest scoreless until the 20-minute mark.
Silvana Paonessa, the Sharks’ leading scorer, netted her 29th goal of the season on a breakaway, lining a shot to the right past Curtis. Nature Coast outshot Palatka 50-0, including 34 shots on goal. Curtis finished with an astounding 30 saves.
“She was a good, strong keeper,” Paonessa said. “She was very athletic. You have to give it up to her.”
The Sharks’ defensive effort shouldn’t come as a surprise. The team has allowed only three goals in 20 games, and though she didn’t have to make a save, keeper Samantha Oliveira racked up her 17th shutout.
Chelsea Reid, Kendal Worden and Ashley Chevalier also scored. The Sharks get a rematch with Citrus on Saturday.
“Earlier this season, I was playing (JV),” Reid said. “Now, I’ve started some games, and it’s so exciting to be in this position.”
3A: Mitchell eases past ailing Sunlake
TRINITY — No one has put together the recipe for beating Mitchell, but one ingredient has to be full health. Sunlake didn’t have that Wednesday and the result was a dominant 4-0 Mitchell victory.
The Mustangs scored twice in each half while completely maintaining possession. Amanda Hayes’ two goals within in a minute capped the scoring and Mitchell went on cruise control the last half-hour.
“I don’t care if we score seven, eight, or win 1-0 as long as we control the game,” said Mitchell coach Karl Kukec. “The goals are simply a by-product of that.”
So in command were the Mustangs (25-0-1) that it took Sunlake 26 minutes to successfully string together two passes. Playing Mitchell was a tall enough order for the playoff newcomers; the Seahawks (10-9-4) had to do it without one of their better defenders. Carly Hill was on crutches, the result of a knee injury in last week’s district final against Land O’Lakes.
Two other regulars (Grace Bunch and Jessica Haney) were out due to ailments, and forward Sarah Sprague played through one. After her first-half breakaway attempt, Sunlake’s best chance at a goal, she was too sick to stay in the game.
Mitchell struck five minutes in on Taylor Meek’s 25th goal of the year, assisted by Antonia Lowden.
Midway through the first half Danielle Misener’s cross found Casey Bruno right on the doorstep for a tricky volley. Later Hayes’ first goal was a replica but with the cross coming in from Baylor Cherry on the left side.
“Those goals aren’t rare because we have really good strategy,” said Hayes, who has a team-leading 28 goals. “Everyone’s good about seeing it, crossing it in and then just go get it.”
Sunlake keeper Maya Kamat made two great saves late in the first half and sweeper Cassidy Place had several strong clearances.
Staff writer John C. Cotey and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.