PALM HARBOR — Lakeland George Jenkins had already knocked off one undefeated bay area team this week, and when the Eagles tied the score Saturday, they had Palm Harbor University back on its heels.
But with one lightning-quick run by Hurricanes junior Kayla Mouton all was well, and when Mackenzie Geier’s 35-yard free kick found the net soon after, PHU was practically Melbourne-bound with a 3-1 victory in its Class 5A region match.
Palm Harbor U. (18-0-5) will face Vero Beach in the state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Eastern Florida State College.
“It’s exciting. We think we have a pretty good chance to win it all,” Mouton said.
Her goal in the 27th minute came less than 90 seconds after Lauren Greene converted a free kick from just outside the penalty box to cap a 10-minute period of George Jenkins being in control.
The quick answer was crucial, as the Eagles play a defensive game and are content to take their chances in penalty kicks. That was how George Jenkins (9-6-2) upset Newsome, which was 19-0, in a region semifinal Tuesday.
Alexis Mouton passed the ball into space, but it looked as if the George Jenkins defender would get there before Kayla.
“At first I thought the goalie would come out, then I saw the defender slow down and decided to go for it,” Kayla Mouton said.
Seven minutes later Geier converted her free kick. It had a football field goal trajectory, settling perfectly in the upper right behind goalie Haleigh Mercer.
The Eagles had not surrendered three goals in a game all season.
PHU’s first goal, a header by Katie Im, came when a free kick was knocked backward by a George Jenkins defender.
PHU’s defense, led by Quinn Lombard, held 23-goal scorer Greene mostly in check. Greene and Lombard are club teammates on the West Florida Flames.
“She’s very technical, and very fast, so I had to stay a little off of her,” Lombard said.
PHU’s Sarah Raymond said once the score was 3-1, it was time to “pack the back.” The Eagles only managed two shots in the second half, both from long distance and easily claimed by keeper Rachel Taylor.
Because of the warm afternoon, PHU coach John Planamenta substituted two to three players every five minutes or so. So the Hurricanes’ top forwards sat out for stretches.
“We play team defense, so the forwards have to run back, and that can tire you out,” he said. “Fortunately we have enough depth that we can feel confident in whoever we put out.”