PALM HARBOR — At times, they were nothing more than silhouettes, their white tops camouflaged by a thick fog that blanketed the field and made seeing from goal to goal nearly impossible.
It may not have been easy to distinguish which Palm Harbor University player had the ball in Friday's 6A-7 district final against Countryside, but one thing was certain: The Hurricanes were in possession, and they weren't giving it up.
PHU (18-0-1) played a convincing game of keep away in a 4-0 victory over the Cougars that sets up a home date Thursday against Bloomingdale in a region quarterfinal. The Cougars (14-4) will travel to 6A-8 winner Plant.
"(PHU's) so tough," Countryside coach Rob Saltz said. "They're an outstanding squad, and they're well coached. My girls played scrappy."
Scrappy, though, wasn't enough against the defending (Class 5A) state champs, who are peaking with their most important games left to play.
"We really played together as a team tonight," PHU's Kelly Phipps said. "I think this was our best game of the season."
Phipps, a freshman, was responsible for the Hurricanes' first goal. Seven minutes into the game, she lifted a shot from the 18 over the outstretched arms of Countryside goalkeeper Kim Cohn (seven saves). The 'Canes increased their lead to 2-0 with 15 minutes to go in the half after Catherine Brinkman's low, driving corner kick was pushed into goal by a Cougars defender.
After the break, it was more of the same, PHU keeping control of the ball and passing over, around and through the scrambling Cougars. Paige Lombard effectively iced the game for the 'Canes when she received a pass at the top of the 18, wheeled around a Countryside defender and shot past Cohn for a 3-0 lead with 34 minutes to go.
Phipps added her goal seven minutes later for PHU, which won its eighth straight district crown.
"We grabbed momentum right from the beginning and kept it up the whole game," Phipps said.