LAND O’LAKES — As Victoria Cannata walked to the line for a first-half penalty kick on a frigid Thursday night, she could feel the nerves building.
Though it was only the sixth minute in a Class 3A region quarterfinal, the Land O’Lakes sophomore knew the fate of her team’s season rested on her right foot.
Despite the first attempt being waved off, Cannata didn’t break under the pressure. After a deep breath, she took three steps and fired the ball toward the right side of the net, past Hudson goalkeeper Brittany Wilkins to give Land O’Lakes a lead it would not relinquish in a 2-0 win.
“I realized she was playing to the right, so she was going to jump off her right foot to spring to the left,” said Cannata, whose Gators travel to Nature Coast on Tuesday. “I just relaxed, kept my composure and hit it in the back of the net.”
Land O’Lakes (24-1) dominated the first 40 minutes, outshooting Hudson 7-1. But the Gators failed to score on two good opportunities off corner kicks, which left the door open for the Cobras to nab the equalizer.
They nearly did. In the 43rd minute, Hudson’s Dominique Cirnigliaro, who was playing in a cast after fracturing her right wrist in the district final, blasted a free kick that clanged off the crossbar.
The Cobras (21-6-1) barely threatened again. Land O’Lakes used the momentum to put it away on a cross from Cannata that found Samantha Epifanio’s waiting head in the 62nd minute.
“Three inches lower, that ball goes in and it’s a totally different second half,” Hudson coach Stephen Jones said. “You don’t want to take anything away from them. They were technically strong, they were solid all game and they made very few errors.
“Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”