TAMPA — Palm Harbor University keeps finding new ways to dash Plant’s postseason hopes.
In the final seconds of their Class 5A region quarterfinal Wednesday, the Hurricanes came up with their most excruciating flourish yet in this increasingly lopsided playoff rivalry.
Alexis Mouton scored the tying goal just before the end of regulation, and Shelby Stacy sent in a header in overtime, lifting PHU to a 2-1 victory.
“I told them in overtime that we’ve been here before in years past,” said Hurricanes coach John Planamenta. “We’ve practiced this situation a lot this year, being down a goal. It’s something we work on.”
The Hurricanes (18-1) advance to a rematch against district champion East Lake.
PHU made it only by pulling off a staggering rally against the Panthers (17-2-1), who finally seemed poised to overcome their playoff struggles against teams from Pinellas County in general and the Hurricanes specifically.
Plant lost to the Hurricanes for the fifth time in six postseason appearances, and has failed to advance out of the region quarterfinals in eight of its past nine attempts. Those previous losses to PHU came by scores of 2-0, 3-1, 4-0 and 6-0, dating to 2006.
“It’s kind of a curse we have here,” Plant coach Pam Smith said. “We just can’t get past tonight. Pinellas comes over and we just have a tough time.”
The Panthers came as close as they ever have to ending that recent streak of futility.
Plant forward Abby Sanchez broke a scoreless tie with a little less than 14 minutes left, slipping the ball past senior keeper Morgan Lorenti. In a match between the best defenses in their respective counties, it looked as if that goal would be enough.
But PHU kept attacking until the final seconds, coming up short on a couple shots as time burned off the clock. With fewer than 10 seconds left in regulation, the Hurricanes saved their season on Mouton’s score out of a furious scrum in front of the Plant goal.
“It was so frantic out there,” Mouton said. “I really don’t know how it happened.”
Then PHU completed its improbable comeback with about three minutes remaining in overtime, with Stacy soaring high above Plant defenders and scoring off a pass from senior midfielder Nicole Naclerio.
“(Naclerio) and I have this connection,” Stacy said. “She always knows to look for me in these situations. …And I kept saying, ‘I got this, I got this.’
“It was the best moment of my life.”
The five-time state champions will get another shot at East Lake, which last week ended their first unbeaten and untied regular season in the 5A-8 tournament. They’ll have to overcome their own struggles against their rival, having lost three of the past four games.
5A: East Lake limits Newsome's chances
EAST LAKE — Last year, East Lake struggled to beat Newsome in the Class 5A region quarterfinals, needing a late goal to win.
In Wednesday’s rematch, the Eagles did not have to sweat it out.
Megan Kelly made sure of it.
Within the first two minutes, Kelly hit a shot from 18 yards that sailed past the keeper and into the left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
That’s all East Lake would need in a 2-0 victory.
The Eagles (21-4-0) remained undefeated at home and set up a region semifinal with their biggest rival, Palm Harbor University, on Saturday.
“It was just wide open for me, and I was able to knock it through,” Kelly said of her goal. “It was big to get that goal so quickly because it took a lot of pressure off of us.”
Kelly was able to make the shot thanks to a huge assist from Kristy Legoas, who saved the ball from going out of bounds and sent it to Kelly.
“It was a great way to start the game, and really helped settle us in,” East Lake coach Sergei Stopek said.
In the second half, both teams struggled to find scoring opportunities. The Eagles made the most of theirs with Legoas connecting from 25 yards on a shot that went high and dropped in just below the top crossbar.
After that, East Lake secured the shutout by staying back on defense.
“The big key for us lately has been team defense,” Stopek said. “Sure, we can score goals. But we’re keeping our shape, and staying focused and really organized on defense.”
4A: Raider steps up just in time
PLANT CITY — Lorena Gutierrez couldn’t have picked a better time for her first goal of the season.
Gutierrez tapped in as score just past the midway point of the second half to lift Plant City 3-2 over Tarpon Springs in a Class 4A region quarterfinal.
“I just saw the cross come in and tried to get my foot on it,” Gutierrez said. “All I wanted to do was keep my body between me and the defender and get my foot on it.”
Diana Corzine took a ball deep into the right corner and wiggled past a defender. She sent a ball in toward the goal mouth that just sailed over the keeper’s hands and onto the waiting feet of Gutierrez, who knocked home the winner in the 66th minute.
Plant City (10-3-3), which also knocked off the Spongers last season in the region quarterfinals, took the lead at 1-0 and 2-1 but Tarpon Springs (11-5) fought back each time to tie.
“We’d score and then they would keep coming back,” Plant City coach Caleb Roberts said. “But I told them at the half it would take all 11 of them to win this game and they really stuck together.”
Kellee Brown gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute but Alyssa Young equalized eight minutes before the half, sending in an arcing shot goal. Christina Gutierrez again gave Plant City the lead two minutes out of the break from about 30 yards out, but the Spongers’ Soleil Duplain answered 14 minutes later, tapping in a rebound to tie it at 2.
The match was delayed roughly 25 minutes early in the first half when the Spongers’ Sarah Brown was taken off the field by ambulance with a right ankle injury.
“Sarah is really the leader and to not have her here, even on the sidelines, was a big emotional letdown,” Tarpon Springs coach John
Freiermuth said. “But I’m very proud of the girls and the way they kept fighting back.”
3A: Robinson comes up empty in OT
TAMPA — Robinson had its hopes dashed with less than a minute remaining in the first overtime period against Palmetto, falling 1-0 in the region quarterfinal.
The Tigers’ Jade Adams got past the Knights’ back line as the seconds wound down but was fouled in the 18-yard box. Tanya Campos put the penalty kick in the top right corner of the net, where senior goalkeeper Courtney Wilson couldn’t get to it.
Both teams grappled back and forth in a physical contest highlighted by the Tigers’ offense against Rice commitment Ruth Seleznik and the Robinson back line. The Tigers outshot the Knights 8-2 in the first half. In the last 20 minutes of the first half, Adams played five balls across the face of the goal. The Knights kept it under wraps.
Seleznik, usually able to strike forward in matches, was needed in every moment deflecting shots and sending balls out to midfield.
The second half was a different story.
Knights coach Billy Helms put defender Gabby Dean on Adams, and Adams was quiet for most of the half. Robinson outshot Palmetto 5-3 and pressed the action much better. As time wound down in regulation, the Tigers got the offense running again and played two shots, both stuffed by Wilson.
“Courtney is our horse; she’s everything you see and more in between those posts,” Helms said.
Wilson finished with six saves but could not get to the penalty kick in overtime.
George Jenkins 5, Steinbrenner 2: At Lakeland, Jenkins led 3-2 at intermission before scoring a pair of second-half goals to pull away in the 4A quarterfinal. Alexis Bredeau and Jessica Taylor had goals for the Warriors (14-6).
Seminole 3, East Bay 0: At Seminole in the 4A quarterfinal, the Indians (12-3-1), playing without injured top scorer Kalynne Heyer, allowed goals in the first four minutes of both halves. Heyer tore her left ACL in Friday’s overtime loss to Plant City in the District 9 final.
Osceola 9, Lennard 0: At Seminole, the hosts got two goals from Rebecca Dirks en route to a rout of the Longhorns in a 3A quarterfinal.
Tampa Prep 4, Bradenton St. Stephen’s 2: At Tampa in a Class A quarterfinal, junior captain Alexandra Daley had a first-half hat trick and the Terrapins (14-6) withstood a St. Stephen’s rally to advance to Saturday night’s semifinal. Senior Tattiana Lamas scored on a rebound goal with 10 minutes remaining to seal things for the Terrapins.
Staff writers Bob Putnam and Joey Knight and correspondents Brandon Wright and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.