SPRING HILL — They sat on ice-cold metal bleachers wearing sweatshirts and jackets as they laughed off the cold. They giggled about text messages and typical high school stuff.
Second-seeded Indian Rocks Christian eased back Tuesday night after its 3-1 win against host Bishop McLaughlin, the No. 3 seed. The Golden Eagles stayed behind to watch top-seeded Tampa Prep rip apart fourth-seeded Calvary Christian for an 8-0 victory.
IRC and Tampa Prep will meet at 7 Friday in the Class 2A, District 9 tournament final, with each already assured berths in next week's region tournament.
Based on the performance of two of Pinellas County's top point getters in Cody Sitton and Edi Baba-Aliq, first-year coach Ben Futoran is confident in IRC's district title hopes.
"Our boys are ready to play with them," Futoran said. "We beat Seminole 2-0, and that's the caliber play we'll see from Tampa Prep. … I think we have the ability this year to put them away."
IRC (15-6) took a commanding 2-0 lead in the first half on goals by Baba-Aliq then Sitton.
In the second half, midfielder Brice Nardozzi crushed a shot from roughly 40 yards for a 3-0 lead.
"Our boys have great chemistry up top," Futoran said. "… Today, we stepped up the intensity the way we needed to and created opportunities."
The Hurricanes (7-8-1) finally answered, making it 3-1 thanks to a tip-in by Chris Pirrello in the final 12 minutes. They almost answered again on a shot by Nick Ateek, which was scooped up by IRC keeper Kollin Woodbury, who was rarely tested and finished with two saves.
Bishop McLaughlin played with just one senior. And with most underclassmen expected back, coach John Mayer hopes to have his team back in the playoff hunt next season.
"I hate to keep saying this, it's been seven years, but we're young," Mayer said. "… But next year we have a great group of juniors coming up and the sophomore class is real strong."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.