MELBOURNE — The goal was to score often and fast, just like Sunlake had been used to doing all season. But soon after the first whistle in the Seahawks’ Class 3A state semifinal matchup with Merritt Island on Thursday afternoon, Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk realized that would be easier said than done.
The Seahawks came in averaging more than five goals per contest and boast the state’s leading scorer, sophomore Remi Pimm, whose 64 goals this season are just five shy of the state record set by Sebastian Janikowski in 1997.
But all of that wasn’t enough for Sunlake to earn its first state championship berth, as Merritt Island shut down Pimm and played lockdown defense to beat the Seahawks 1-0.
Merritt Island (21-1-0) is on the complete opposite side of the state from Sunlake’s stomping grounds, but the Mustangs came in knowing exactly who Pimm was and the threat he posed to their state title dreams.
“We knew that everything went through Remi; he scored all the goals, so we shut him down,” Merritt Island coach Scooty Carey said. “That was our goal, to not allow Remi to get the ball, and if he did, not allow him to turn, to limit his chances at goal. And we did.”
Merritt Island took control of the first half, stopping the Seahawks (29-2-1) in their tracks just about every time they got the ball. The Mustangs scored in the 12th minute when Parker Duncan sent a cross to Scott Behrhorst, who slipped it past Sunlake goalkeeper Daniel Hrenko.
Despite an early Sunlake corner kick, the second half was much of the same Merritt Island dominance. Pimm averaged two goals per game, but the Mustangs weren’t letting him get anywhere close to the box.
Merritt Island, meanwhile, had seven shots on goal in the half, but Sunlake’s defense stepped up where its offense couldn’t to keep the Seahawks in the game.
In the 67th minute, freshman midfielder Sebastian Restrepo escaped a tangle in the box with the ball at his feet and took a hard strike at close range for Sunlake’s first shot of the half.
“Just in the moment of the game, you don’t really think, you just shoot it,” Restrepo said. “Hopefully it goes in.”
But this time, it didn’t. Merritt Island defender Tyler Rye was in the right place at the right time, blocking and clearing the ball before the goalkeeper could even get a hand on it.
Sunlake had three more quick shots, another from Restrepo, in the final minutes, but none found the net. As the final seconds ticked off, the Merritt Island fans in the stands at Eastern Florida State College counted down from 10, and Sunlake’s final desperation shot landed softly in the Mustang goalkeeper’s hands as the buzzer sounded.
Some of the Seahawks hit the turf when the game was over, in disbelief that their storybook season had finally come to an end. Koleduk, however, insisted on remaining upbeat.
“The school’s only seven years old, and its our second final four,” he said. “So we’ll keep building for the future.”