LAND O’LAKES — Aaron Aucoin’s goal at the 22-minute mark completely changed the game’s complexion, and Sunlake defeated Pasco 2-0 in a Class 3A region semifinal Saturday.
The Seahawks (29-0) are three wins from a state title and face Gainesville Eastside in Tuesday’s region final.
But Sunlake started off slowly against a Pasco team it had beaten twice by 5-0 scores and 2-0 in districts.
“We just weren’t quite as motivated going up a team we’d beaten like that already,” said Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk, “But Pasco was tough starting out. Once we weathered that storm we were all right.”
Pasco (13-7-1) made Sunlake look ordinary for the first 10 minutes, getting off six shots before Sunlake even sniffed a look at goal. Jose Flores ripped a shot in the second minute, then nearly scored after miscommunication in the Sunlake defense.
But the Seahawks took command off a corner kick. Chris Wilkerson’s ball found the head of Derek Noble, who put it on goal. Aucoin caught the ball flush and rammed it into the top of the net.
“We felt we had momentum, we had possession. Maybe after that goal a few guys hung their heads,” Pasco senior captain Justin Smith said.
Zach Flood nearly leveled it for Pasco with 12 minutes remaining in the half but was stopped by Daniel Hrenko (six saves). Sunlake doubled its lead with 31 minutes left. Sophomore Connor Spencer, on a pass from Aucoin, ripped a shot with the outside of his right foot from 18 yards for his 37th goal.
After that it was literally insult to injury for Pasco. Hard-working midfielder Michael Mazza got taken out of the game by a Sunlake tackle. Then Pasco went down a man, when Flores — earlier warned by the head referee for speaking out excessively — picked up two yellow cards for dissent within five seconds.
“Their discipline cost them. Flores played a great game except for that,” Koleduk said.
Sunlake players know that as good as 29-0 sounds that’s not a number of interest.
“We could go 31-1,” Wilkerson said. “But the 31 wins won’t mean anything if we lose a game.”