LAND O'LAKES — Cracking a Rubik's Cube is easier than getting Mark Pearson to break into a smile.
Sure, the Land O'Lakes coach is a happy guy most days. He has two wonderful children, a loving wife and one of the best soccer teams in Tampa Bay.
It's his quest to piece together the perfect soccer season, a venture that leaves his emotions in a twisted wreck.
Pearson had high praise for his players and an optimistic outlook after a 4-0 win over Wiregrass Ranch for the Class 4A, District 8 title, the Gators' sixth in a row.
Land O'Lakes will host Wesley Chapel on Tuesday in the first round of regionals. Wiregrass Ranch will travel to Mitchell.
"We are coming together at the right time when the last couple of years we've probably peaked at the wrong time," Pearson said. "…I'm very happy with what they're doing out there."
Land O'Lakes (17-3-2) was weakened just before the district tournament, losing leading scorer Andy Garcia and captain Frank Villar to season-ending injuries.
That meant some of the underclassmen — seven new starters to a team that lost 10 seniors last year — including sophomore Jake Frahm, had to step it up.
Frahm, who suffered a brutal nose injury in the semifinals, returned Friday with two goals. But it was some smooth passing that led Andrew Gorgen to flick a ball to the foot of senior Jon Wilkinson for the winner just 11 minutes into the game.
Gators junior Zach Higgins also scored, helping keeper Kody Parker to his second straight shutout.
"This was a big game for us," Frahm said. "…We were very relieved of how we played. We're just glad we're in this position and have a chance at state this year."
Land O'Lakes was solid defensively, frustrating the Bulls (18-4-2) offense, including top scorer Steven Esoff, who was limited to one shot.
Overall, Land O'Lakes controlled most of the attack with arguably its best performance of the season.
"They never gave up and they kept going hard," Bulls coach David Wilson said. "They're a good team.
"They're a better team than we are."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.