PALM HARBOR — Before his team's 5A-9 district final against undefeated East Lake, Palm Harbor University coach Alex Delgado gathered his team in the Hurricanes' gymnasium.
On the walls hung countless championship banners: PCAC, district, regional, even state.
Delgado wanted his players to understand the program they were playing for. He let the moment sink in.
"I told them, 'This is our history. You want to be part of our history, you'll have the chance to do it tonight,' " Delgado said.
The Hurricanes got the message loud and clear.
PHU struck quickly, scoring twice in the first 13 minutes and holding off a pesky Eagles attack in the second half to win 2-1.
In the process, PHU (19-4-4) handed East Lake its first defeat of the season and avenged a loss to the Eagles (19-1-4) in last year's district final.
"This senior class, I've had my doubts about them, whether they've wanted it," Delgado said. "I challenged them, and I've been challenging them all year. Tonight, they finally showed that they belong."
PHU started aggressively and was rewarded with a quick 1-0 lead when Ben Sweat took advantage of a giveaway deep in East Lake territory, lifting a perfectly placed shot into the upper left-hand corner of the goal.
Soon after, Matthew Tobin's corner kick curved dangerously close to goal, and Sam Venker stood ready to poke it in.
PHU led 2-0 at halftime. Now all the Hurricanes had to do was hold on.
"East Lake's a very, very strong team," said PHU goalkeeper Max Gallin, who had six saves. "We just bunkered in, and our defense played a very strong game."
Six minutes into the second half, East Lake's Brett Hummel sent a header toward goal that ricocheted off the post, but Juan Alcala was there to clean up the rebound, cutting PHU's lead to one.
The Eagles, however, couldn't equalize, thanks in part to a number of diving second-half saves from Gallin.