TAMPA — Grass-stained, grimy and a bit gleeful, the Bloomingdale Bulls stood in front of the home bleachers of Wharton’s football stadium hoisting their newest trophy in much the same way they had spent the previous 80 minutes capturing it.
With a collaborative effort.
After watching senior striker Tevin Gage tally nine goals in their first four tournament contests, the Bulls (14-1-3) got several sparkling efforts in Thursday’s 3-1 triumph over Steinbrenner to clinch the four-day, 16-team event.
“This is a great accomplishment,” said Bulls coach Troy Smith, whose team enters next week’s Class 6A, District 8 tournament as the top seed. “Bloomingdale’s kind of back on the map as far as soccer goes and that’s kind of what we wanted to do.”
By contrast, Steinbrenner wanted to neutralize Gage, which it did to a fair degree of success.
Employing their conventional four-defender alignment, the Warriors (13-3-2) held the 5-foot-9 senior in check save for his 20-yard free kick in the ninth minute. Finding a seam in the Steinbrenner wall, Gage’s shot sailed into the back right corner of the net.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Warriors coach Chad Ebright said. “I think Bloomingdale just played better than we did; I don’t think we played poorly. Our goal was to slow down Tevin, keep him from getting breakaways, and we did that.”
The Warriors tied the score at 1-all on junior Derek Wilkosz’s 35th-minute header, but Bulls junior Dalian Leigh scored what would be the winner roughly four minutes later with a header off a Matt Firestine corner kick.
Bloomingdale sealed things with fewer than 10 minutes to play when Jaber Mando sent a midfield ball through to Firestine, who broke away from a defender and nailed a left-footed shot from roughly 25 yards that sailed just inside the right post.
Meantime, 6-foot-3 keeper Austin Spagnola, who blocked a penalty kick in the waning minutes of Wednesday’s 4-3 semifinal win against Newsome, had another solid night in the net despite a string of prime Warriors scoring chances.
“I told them win tonight, and tomorrow we’re back to business ready for districts,” Smith said. “We’re going to be all business starting (today).”