LARGO — Late arrivals to the Class 3A-10 girls soccer final might have missed all of the scoring but they didn’t miss any of the intensity.
In what has become an emotional rivalry in a short time, top seed Largo and No. 2 Tarpon Springs ratcheted up the muscle and went after each other hard for the entire 80 minutes.
But the tipping point came in the first minute. Junior centerback Ashley Blanchard stopped a Spongers clearing pass on the offensive side of the center circle, settled the ball, then launched a rocket that dipped just under the crossbar, over goaltender Alyssa Mastracchio’s left shoulder and into the net.
Mastracchio and Largo counterpart Aubanie Higdon were equal to the rare offensive surges the rest of the way to create a 1-0 victory and the Packers’ first district crown in five years.
“I’ve been practicing a lot during the season with these high shots,” said Blanchard, who teamed with senior Shaila Hepburn to shut out Ali Ward, Tarpon Springs’ top scorer. “I wasn’t really aiming for that upper 90, but I knew I was going to rip that shot.”
Behind Kyla Kreemer and junior Kennedy Flynn, Largo (13-6-5) carried the first-half play. In the final 40 minutes, Tarpon Springs (8-7-1) rode savvy ball handling from Ward and Allysa Young to some good scoring attempts. And the more saves the keepers registered, the more desperate and physical the game got. Five yellow cards were handed out in the second half alone.
“It’s been nip-and-tuck for the past two years,” veteran Spongers coach John Freiermuth said. “The regular season (a 2-1 Largo win) was like this. These teams play hard-fought games.”
“I think the girls were a little stressed about the physicality of the game,” Largo coach Dan Flynn said. “There were some nerves on our part, then some intimidation, and I think we got a little defensive. This (the district title) was our goal from the very beginning and I think we can play even better going into sectionals.”