TAMPA — Evan Kruk might be the coolest freshman at Freedom.
The Patriots midfielder scored the biggest goal in school history Friday, firing in the winner in the 61st minute for a 1-0 victory against Niceville.
The win advanced the Patriots to the Class 5A state final tonight at 7:30 against Palm Harbor University.
Kruk, who narrowly missed a second goal, was still tingling moments after scoring just his second of the season.
"It's unimaginable," Kruk said. "It's hard to describe being a freshman and scoring in a semifinals of states. It's an amazing feeling. When you put the ball in the back of the net, that feeling is what you play for right there."
The biggest day in Freedom's short history and the Patriots (17-2-5) almost got left behind.
The boys were itching to get to their Class 5A state semifinal and the team bus was late. Coach Dennis Derflinger made the call to have the kids jump in cars for the short drive to Pepin Stadium.
The result, some Patriots said, was a sluggish start. But they returned to form in the second half.
They clamped down on Niceville (24-2-3), which was limited to five shots. Eagles senior Jake Pratt found himself in striking distance, but sent the ball over the crossbar with 42 seconds to play.
Eagles coach Wes Nelson embraced his star senior after the loss.
"He's been the heart of this team," Nelson said. "I love him like a son. He's just a great kid and he wanted this for the other guys."
The Patriots' stunning postseason run continues with Freedom having outscored opponents 16-5 in four games.
"When you get to this level there are going to be quality teams," Derflinger said. "Our philosophy is we have to come in and play the soccer we're capable of playing."
PHU 2, Monarch 0: Entering Friday's semifinal, Palm Harbor University had yet to allow a goal to three region opponents: Leto, Jesuit, Seminole. Now, the Hurricanes can add Monarch to that list.
Behind a tenacious defense that kept possession from Monarch leading scorer Felipe Nascimento and allowed the Knights only three shots on goal, PHU advanced to the school's fourth state championship. The Hurricanes (23-4-4) won state titles in 2002 and '06.
In the 67th minute, junior Ben Sweat scored PHU's first goal — and his 13th of the season for the junior. Six minutes after going ahead 1-0, PHU forward Matthew Tobin converted on a penalty kick to give PHU an insurmountable 2-0 lead.
Battle for bragging rights?
Freedom and Palm Harbor U. meet today in a battle of bay area powers. It's not the first time Hillsborough and Pinellas county teams have met in a soccer final. Pinellas holds a 5-2 edge.
1982: Seminole 2, Leto 1
1989: Clearwater Central Catholic 4, Tampa Catholic 1
1996: CCC 1, Jesuit 0
1998: Jesuit 4, Osceola 1
1999: Jesuit 5, Osceola 2
1997: CCC 4, TC 1
2006: PHU 2, Bloomingdale 0