LAKELAND — Despite the flip throws, the 40-yard throw-ins launched with pinpoint accuracy and the 10-1 shot disadvantage, Steinbrenner held Lakeland George Jenkins — the No. 3 team in the country according to ESPN — scoreless for 56 minutes Friday.
But after several near misses that clinked off the crossbar and left post, the Eagles converted. And then 40 seconds later they did it again, taking a 2-0 lead that they did not relinquish. The chase left several Warriors gasping for air, with hands clasped on top of their heads.
And when the final whistle blew, the deep breaths turned to tears, as they had collectively given everything their coached could have asked of them.
“I’m extremely proud,” coach Robert Woodard said. “They really gave 100 percent out there. We don’t have the depth that we normally do, so we had to give everyone more minutes and consequently couldn’t push forward as much as we wanted to.”
Steinbrenner (16-4-2) wanted to pressure Jenkins (24-0-0) by putting the ball on the feet of its senior forwards Taylor Valley and CiCi Gonzalez. Valley had the Warriors’ best chance in the seventh minute, sending a shot from the top of the box above the left side of the net.
A few minutes later, the Eagles attacked with something the Warriors had yet to face: a long throw from senior Emily Rice that traveled from the right corner into a sea of Jenkins attackers in the box. Warriors goalkeeper Stephanie Hirsch made her first of many saves.
“Having the long throw helps a bit,” Jenkins coach Marissa Kazbour said. “I told my kids that in the first half, we had several chances, we had about 20. The longer we kept this team at 0-0, the more opportunity they had to score and win the game.”
Florida State commit Tori Abnathy finally beat Hirsch when she took a pass from freshman Camille Knudstrup and dribbled through the defense to score on a close-range shot from inside the box. Just 40 seconds later, Jessie Scarpa advanced the ball down the right side of the field and found Lauren Greene in front for the insurance goal. In total, Hirsch faced 15 shots.
“She did a remarkable job,” Woodard said of his keeper. “She kept us in it.”