NEW PORT RICHEY — A tunnel of arms rose high above the path to the River Ridge locker room. Royal Knights fans have made a habit of welcoming their team back to the locker room in a special way.
And this was a special night considering River Ridge advanced to its second straight region semifinal with a 2-0 victory Thursday against rival Mitchell.
"We always play them and end up losing or tying," River Ridge forward Jenny Karl said of Mitchell. "To win is an honor; it's so awesome."
River Ridge broke through in the 11th minute on a goal by senior captain Corinna Dyl after Mitchell keeper Sandra Jozic mishandled a ball inside the 18-yard line. Dyl fired in the open net, giving the Royal Knights what turned out to be the winning goal.
Mitchell (17-6-2) continued to struggle without alumnus Shelby Wright, who graduated in December to enroll in Nova Southeastern, going 4-5-1 in her absence. The Mustangs had plenty of support from a boisterous section of boys soccer players. But even their loud cheers couldn't give Mitchell enough of a boost, though players such as Marissa Russo were able to generate more opportunities late.
But just six minutes into the second half, Karl knocked a header in to give the Royal Knights a 2-0 lead and plenty of breathing room.
"It's tough to lose someone like Shelby Wright right before the playoffs," Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said. "…A player like Shelby always makes a big impact."
The next step for the Royal Knights (18-2-1) is advancing out of the region semifinals, which they haven't done in seven previous postseason trips.
The difference this time is familiarity with the semifinal opponent, Hudson, which the Royal Knights defeated 2-1 on Nov. 6.
"It's different to play teams you've played before," River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. "It's not an unknown. …We're making progress."