LAND O'LAKES — In a matchup that has resulted in 19 goals scored in the past two contests between Wiregrass Ranch and River Ridge, the game-defining play wouldn't be a masterful goal or nifty assist.
The game would come down to a superb defensive play by Bulls goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby, who made a crucial one-on-one save in the waning minutes Friday night. The stop helped preserve a thrilling 3-2 victory over River Ridge for the 4A-8 district championship at Gator Stadium.
"Dayton is a great goalkeeper and our defense really came through tonight," Wiregrass coach Jennifer Osterman said. "Some of our defenders kept the ball out of the net as well, and they all knew what tonight meant.
"They wanted it so bad and they knew we could beat (River Ridge) and they went out there and they did it."
The prospects of a third offensive outburst between the teams looked evident from the beginning, as Wiregrass (21-2-2) scored less than four minutes in on a goal from sophomore forward Berlin Waters.
Wiregrass took a 3-1 lead into halftime, but after intermission the Royal Knights (20-3-2) sliced the lead on a goal from senior Jessica Tata in the 45th minute.
In the ensuing 35 minutes, River Ridge searched valiantly for an equalizer. Wetherby (11 saves) denied a streaking Tata in the 77th minute, as she came out of her box to make a sliding save off Tata's shot that went harmlessly out of bounds.
River Ridge outshot Wiregrass 19-14 but was called offsides four times on the night.
"It's a game we could have won," River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. "We just didn't finish."
River Ridge will travel next week to Mitchell, a 2-0 winner over Gulf and Wiregrass will play host to the Buccaneers in the 4A playoffs.