BRADENTON — Seminole coach Rick Masi fretted about his team's long-term playoff chances after a lackluster win in the region quarterfinals.
The Warhawks' performance Tuesday on the road against Lakewood Ranch, though, was enough to put a smile on the veteran coach's face to last the entire bus ride back to Pinellas County.
Seminole attacked from the outset. The Warhawks controlled possession. They created scoring opportunities. They denied the Mustangs any semblance of an offensive push.
And after surviving a few tenuous moments in the waning minutes, Seminole closed out its region semifinal 2-1 to advance to their sixth region final in school history and first since 2004.
"From top to bottom, I couldn't ask for more effort from the team," Masi said.
Five minutes into the first half, Seminole's aggressive start was rewarded when senior forward Maurice Lelii fought off a defender in the box and shot past goalkeeper Kyle Medvetz (eight saves).
With 17:30 to go before the break, a Shane Wixted free kick wasn't cleared from the Mustangs' goal area. Sean Rafferty picked up the loose ball and placed a shot past Medvetz to put the Warhawks ahead 2-0 going into halftime.
"Honestly, I think that first half was the best half we've ever played together in the four years that I've been here," Lelii said.
Seminole (17-8-3) had a couple scoring opportunities in the second half but came up empty. Lakewood Ranch (16-4-4) got back in the game when defender Leander White snuck a shot past Seminole goalkeeper Ryan Downey (three saves) from in close with 10:30 left.
Lakewood Ranch pushed forward over the final 10 minutes in search of the tying goal, but Seminole's defense denied the Mustangs.
"I think that was probably the most physical game we've played yet," Wixted said. "But I thought we all kept our cool pretty well. We just kept moving the ball so they couldn't hit us as much as they wanted to."