TAMPA — On the first day of preseason drills in mid-October, Tampa Prep boys soccer coach Doug Smith walked his team across Cass Street to Pepin Stadium and ordered his players to run three miles.
Smith's not-so-subtle message: We're going to start the season where we plan to finish it.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Friday night, the Terps were whooping and chanting on precisely the same rubberized surface upon which a couple of them had vomited four months to the day before.
Before dozens of raucous classmates, the Terrapins (19-4-2) survived a furious late charge by defending champ Delray Beach American Heritage to preserve a 2-1 triumph in the Class 2A final.
It was the Terps' fourth crown in six seasons. For senior Anthony Baumann, it was the most bittersweet.
"It's the last one, but it's at home," said Baumann, whose team rallied from a 2-4-1 midseason swoon by winning its last nine matches.
"We started on this track four months ago. We didn't do (the run) right, we did it again. ... We had our ups and downs, people counted us out, but it's hard work. It's all hard work. This program knows how to win."
On a crisp, clear downtown Tampa night, the Terps dictated things early, creating a handful of prime scoring opportunities that just missed. Senior Wes Sever's header in the second minute, created by a brisk Baumann cross, sailed over the crossbar.
Thirteen minutes later, a Jake Peterson header bounced off the left post. The Terps finally converted — sort of — when Baumann sent a long pass from midfield to Sever, who was dashing toward the net with a defender in tow.
The pass deflected off one of the two, past Stallions keeper Fabiano Chaves into the net. Sever, the Terps' leader with 32 goals, said he never touched it; it was ruled an own goal.
"I looked up, I saw Wes making a run. That's the same connection the last four years," said Baumann, who finished with a team-high 32 assists. "I look up and all I see is Wes."
Sophomore Zack Hebert added the insurance goal — his fourth of the year — in the 51st minute on a shot from the left corner of the penalty area that sailed over Chaves' reach.
The goal seemed to temporarily deflate the Stallions, who had a first-half goal nullified by an offside penalty.
"(Hebert's goal) was just unbelievable," Smith said. "He's one of the guys from the beginning of the season that was on the bubble with starting. … He's just been determined. Every time he goes out on the field you know he's going to bleed for you. And he did that again tonight."
Meantime, the Stallions offense offered a transfusion of eleventh-hour drama. At least two American Heritage shots hit the post just before Terps junior Brian Steel took down Henry Penagos in the penalty area. Verneri Valimaa slipped in the penalty kick in the 72nd minute.
"That just made me a little more nervous, but you know what, our defense was bending but it didn't break," Smith said. "And we were able to still counter and be successful in that regard."