NEW PORT RICHEY — There’s nothing like getting the underclassmen some playing time while the starters are out during the holidays.
That’s what Sickles coach Antonio Calvo had to do Tuesday night, as the Gryphons were without six of their starters but nonetheless defeated Clearwater 2-0 in the semifinals of the Ridgewood Winter Classic.
“This is a great tournament to get the younger guys involved in,” Calvo said. “We’re missing six starters and a couple key guys who come off the bench. The younger guys stepped up and played awesome. I’m very proud of them.”
The infusion of youth was evident all over the field, with freshman goalkeeper Matt Bajza (four saves) making key saves late in the second half to notch his second shutout of the season.
In earlier consolation matches, Ridgewood defeated East Bay 3-1 and Alonso cruised by Central 6-0.
Sickles (10-3-3) scored both of its goals in the first half, highlighted by Carlos Rodriguez’s impressive 30-yard score in the 31st minute. The Gryphons held the Tornadoes to one shot on goal in the first half.
In the other semifinal, Pompano Beach Ely continued its stellar play by defeating Pinellas Park 2-0, behind two goals from forward Kemberlyn Jean-Etienne.
Sickles and Ely will meet at 7 tonight for the title.
Ely was (5-6-2) on its heels in the first half, with Pinellas Park dictating the tempo. Ely found luck in the 21st minute, as no one cleared the ball out of the box and Jean-Etienne came sprinting up and nailed in a rocket shot past the Patriots defense.
Ely goalkeeper Nilson Miranda played a flawless match, making five saves and shutting out a Patriots squad that scored seven goals the previous night against East Bay.
“Last year we got eliminated in the second-round game and this time around I didn’t want that to happen,” Jean-Etienne said. “I was really excited about this match. We came to this tournament focused on nothing but getting to the championship match.”