TRINITY — After a scoreless first 30 minutes against Land O’Lakes, Mitchell didn’t need a pep talk or a new strategy.
The Mustangs just needed time.
Mitchell finally broke through late in the first half and dominated the final 40 minutes to stay unbeaten and cruise to a 3-0 home win in Saturday’s Class 3A region semifinals. The Mustangs advance to the region finals for the third time in program history and will host Nature Coast on Tuesday.
“The score will come,” Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
It came Saturday in the 33rd minute after a sluggish start. Mitchell (25-0-1) failed to hit its passes and suffered uncharacteristic communication breakdowns. Those problems — and nine first-half saves from Land O’Lakes goalkeeper Ariana Bailey — kept the Mustangs scoreless.
“We knew what we were doing wrong,” senior Leslie Fallon said. “We weren’t connecting as a team.”
That changed late in the first half.
Moments after Gina Davis rocketed a shot, standout sophomore Amanda Hayes calmly handled another deflection and knocked it into the net. The goal was her 32nd of the season and marked her eighth consecutive game with at least one goal.
“It seems like she comes through now in the important games,” Kukec said.
The Mustangs continued to attack in the second half. Their possession game kept the ball away from Land O’Lakes (18-5-4) and prevented the Gators from attempting a shot in the final frame.
Mitchell added a second goal nine minutes into the second half when Fallon put back a deflection from a Danielle Gottwik shot for her sixth goal of the season.
“That was cool,” Fallon said. “I don’t score very often.”
Land O’Lakes had only two strong scoring chances in the second half. The first ended when Mitchell’s Kaela Champion knocked the ball out of the box, and the second fizzled out after a Lacy Nasello free kick couldn’t find its target.
Mustangs junior Taylor Meek tacked on her 27th goal of the season with 1:14 left to push her team within one win of the best run in school history.
3A: Same foe, same result for Sharks
BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast handled the same foe it controlled in a district title victory with ease, shutting out Citrus 3-0 Saturday night in the Class 3A semifinals.
Since that district championship match between the Hurricanes (12-9-1) and Nature Coast (18-2-1), the Sharks had held opponents without a shot for two straight games while firing 72 at the net themselves. With 18 minutes remaining in the first half Citrus was able to end that run at 79 unanswered, collecting a breakaway that was saved by Nature Coast keeper Samantha Oliveira (six saves).
“It was huge having (Oliveira) in there (Saturday night),” coach Lisa Masserio said. “She is solid, and she stepped up.”
Oliveira collected her 17th shutout of the season, but as usual, the team was pushed by its ability to possess the ball and push action offensively.
Ashley Chevalier scored her second goal in two playoff games after scoring only twice during the regular season. A throw-in pass from MaKenzie Cummings was punched in by Chevalier right in front of Citrus keeper Liz Rinaldi (six saves).
“It was very important (for us to score first),” Masserio said. “For us to shift the momentum in our direction, scoring early was important. (Chevalier’s goal) shows that anybody can be the one that steps up as long as you’re in the right spot.”
The lead was pushed to 2-0 at halftime when the Sharks leading scorer, Silvana Paonessa, lined in her 30th goal of the season from about 22 yards out, beating Rinaldi to the left.
Nature Coast tacked on one more with 14 minutes to play when Brianna Baugher scored her sixth goal on a pass from Hailey LaLande. LaLande assisted on both Baugher and Paonessa’s goals to bring her season total to eight, tied for second on the team with Cummings.
On the heels of Mitchell’s win over Land O’Lakes earlier in the evening, the team was primed for its much-anticipated region final.
“We’re going to have to stay focused to knock off a giant,” Masserio said. “The excitement right now is about making it to the elite eight, but we know that we’re going to have to play our best game.”
4A: Wiregrass Ranch runs into juggernaut
WESLEY CHAPEL — Expecting to hold a 1-0 lead against the scoring machine that is Lakeland George Jenkins seemed ambitious. Wiregrass Ranch’s strategy was to do just that, and it worked for all of about 20 minutes.
Jenkins got goals from prolific juniors Lauren Greene and Jessie Scarpa within a two-minute span, going on to a 4-1 victory in the Class 4A region semifinals.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bulls coach Eddy Costa said. “Transitioning to a new system, new coach, we had a good season.”
Wiregrass Ranch (20-3) did a good job of keeping the defending state runnerup in check for the first half, with midfielder Lauren Luzzi shadowing Scarpa’s every step. Twenty minutes in the Bulls avoided a scare when Jenkins’ Marissa Morgan came in alone, but goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby forced her to shoot wide.
The Bulls had almost all of the possession for the next 10 minutes and were rewarded with a goal. Chloe Lipovetsky’s long shot, the first on goal for her team, was dropped by keeper Haleigh Mercer. A.J. Blount was there to pounce on it.
“It was a great feeling, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. We needed a second goal,” Blount said.
Costa had his team fall into its “Christmas tree” alignment, designed to clog up the middle of the field while keeping only Blount forward. But with much of the team up for Wiregrass’ first corner kick, the Eagles (22-2-2) flew the other way. Scarpa fed a perfect through ball to Greene for the tying goal with 30 minutes left. Shortly after Scarpa broke loose and rocketed a shot over Wetherby.
With 18 minutes left Berlin Waters outfought two defenders to get the ball over to unmarked Vanessa Jordan, but she shot it right at Mercer. Greene flubbed a penalty kick after that but made up for it by creating her team’s third goal, on a cross to Morgan. Scarpa provided the final margin.
“We knew they were good,” said Wetherby, who like fellow seniors Blount and Hannah Eder had trouble fighting back tears. “We played hard. But they played harder.”
Times correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.