NEW PORT RICHEY — Land O'Lakes had to wait until the waning minutes of Thursday's match before it could bury Wiregrass Ranch 6-2 and move on to the 4A-8 final.
"I think we got up on them too soon," Gators coach Mark Pearson said. "We got up early in the game and our intensity dropped. That is a mistake we cannot allow to happen in the playoffs."
The Gators (22-1) went up 2-0 in the first five minutes of the match. Andrew Garcia buried a shot from the top of 18-yard box in the first minute, which was followed by Patrick Lawson's goal in the fifth minute delivered on a cross from Sean Young.
Despite the quick lead and several opportunities, the Gators offense wasn't able to finish and the Bulls (12-9-3) pulled to within one goal in the 45th minute. The goal was the only shot for Wiregrass in the first half.
Land O'Lakes went up 3-1 in the 58th minute on a Miguel Laliberte goal, but once again the Bulls were nipping at their heels when Robert Castillo scored in the 66th minute.
"We go up 3-1 thinking, okay we are ready to go now, and then we give up another sloppy goal," Pearson said. "At that point, that was their third shot and their second goal."
After that goal the Gators began a late surge and pressed hard, finishing with a trio of goals in the final 15 minutes. Lawson scored again in the 67th minute, Joshua Davis beat the keeper one-on-one in the 70th minute and Jake Frahm also beat the keeper one-on-one in the 75th.
The Gators will play Sunlake in the final. The Seahawks edged River Ridge 2-1 after each team scored early on penalty kicks.
Jordan Landry had the go-ahead goal in the 37th minute. Landry also was the player who scored when a handball was called in the River Ridge penalty box.
"The second half we just played defense," Sunlake coach Samuel Koleduk said. "We had good team defense."