NEW PORT RICHEY — On many nights, the perfect ball would float through the penalty area and find a Land O'Lakes player ready to strike.
Then for some reason the shot would miss its target.
Post, crossbar, keeper, you name it, goals were in short supply.
The perfect ball came floating through Lecanto's penalty area Thursday night off a Land O'Lakes corner kick. This time Gators senior Nikki Forcier found the net, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 victory to set up tonight's Class 4A, District 8 final against River Ridge.
The Royal Knights were quick 6-0 winners over Citrus. The game was called with 25 minutes to play due to safety concerns with lightning in the area.
The history between Land O'Lakes and River Ridge is deep.
The Gators are playing in their 11th consecutive district tournament final — and fifth straight against the Royal Knights. River Ridge has won the previous four.
"If we play like we played tonight we have a chance," River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. "It's just a matter of beating that defense, which is good. They have their work cut out for them."
Gators coach Vicky King has called this year's group a Cinderella team, mainly because there is plenty of youth on the roster.
She said several of her girls had been mentored by former Gator — and North Suncoast all-time scoring leader — Stacy Bishop. Many of the girls, then in fourth grade, came to the 2003 Class 2A state final when the Gators won, and when Bishop used to train them.
"They've seen it, they know," King said of the Land O'Lakes mystique. "They've had visions of something good happening."
This season, Land O'Lakes (11-4-6) stunned River Ridge (16-2-1) on Nov. 24, winning 2-1 on the Royal Knights' home field. River Ridge was without a full roster and avenged the loss Dec. 18 1-0 at Land O'Lakes.
Forcier's goal Thursday, just moments before halftime, gave Land O'Lakes the confidence it needed to fend off Lecanto in the second half.
"I was so shocked," Forcier said. "It felt so good to get it. …when I saw it hit the net I didn't know what to say. I was so excited for the team and myself."
Top-seeded River Ridge disposed of Citrus quickly, scoring six goals in the first half — three in the first 12 minutes.
Goal scorers included Jessica Tata (two goals), Sarah Olin, Jenny Karl, Corrine Pieterse, Mikaela Morolla.
Pieterse, Morolla, Olin and Karl each had assists for multiple points.
"That's what we've done all throughout the year," Glover said of the production. "…We've spread it all out.
"…I think they're really starting to click."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.