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PALM HARBOR — To reach the region final for the first time since 2008, and to fill in the blank on its glittering postseason run, East Lake knew it would have to vanquish its greatest tormenter, Palm Harbor University.
The Eagles had not beaten the Hurricanes in more than three seasons. It appeared East Lake would fall short again Friday when PHU’s Kelly Phipps scored three minutes into regulation.
But the Eagles did not panic, tying the score in the second half on a goal by Karina White.
Then in the final two minutes, East Lake went ahead when White hit a shot from 30 yards away that ricocheted off the top crossbar and bounced back into play. Sydney Nelson was in the right spot at the right time, heading in the ball for what turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
“Honestly, this is one of the greatest moments of my life,” Nelson said. “I’m so happy I want to cry. I just followed the ball and it went straight to my head.”
It was a stunning end for the Hurricanes (18-1-3), who had beaten the Eagles three times this season.
“Give a lot of credit to East Lake,” PHU coach John Planamenta said. “They outplayed us. We got a goal really early and East Lake never gave up. They constantly put pressure on us.”
In the second half, the Eagles were strong defensively and had some chances that went wide. It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that they were able to put things together offensively.
“We haven’t given up all year,” White said. “This is the same as our last playoff game started, with a quick goal. This year we’re just out to prove things. On that last shot I just sent it in and knew it was either going to go in or a teammate was going to be there to put it in.”
Boys: Cougars top No. 1-seeded ’Canes
Countryside had a tough road to defend its Class 5A, District 8 title. The Cougars entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed and had to beat the top three seeds in order to win.
The final victory came in dramatic fashion as Countryside goalkeeper Danny George came through in the clutch, thwarting three shots in the first round of penalty kicks to help Countryside prevail 0-0 (3-2 on penalty kicks) over top-seeded Palm Harbor University.
“To tell you the truth, penalty kicks is probably the weaker part of my goalkeeping,” George said. “But I knew we were already in. So I went out there relaxed.”
Ryan Carter hit what was the winning goal in penalty kicks for the Cougars. George preserved it by coming up with his third save.
“People kind of wrote Countryside off,” Countryside coach Dave Sica said. “We were underdogs the whole season and we put it together when it counted.”