PALM HARBOR — The message from Palm Harbor University coach John Planamenta to his players before the region semifinal against Plant was simple.
Don't let the Panthers become another Bloomingdale.
Five days earlier, the Hurricanes came out passively in their playoff opener and struggled to put away Bloomingdale until Catherine Brinkman's goal six minutes into overtime.
Tuesday versus Plant, the Hurricanes had no such problems.
PHU dominated from the outset, scoring in the 19th minute and again 10 minutes after halftime to defeat the Panthers 2-0 and set up a meeting Friday at Apopka with a trip to the state final four on the line.
"I think we all came in with the mind-set that we had to get after them from the beginning," PHU's Zoe Lombard said. "Everyone played phenomenal."
Most impressive was the performance of the Hurricanes' defense, which limited Plant (21-2-1) to only two shots — none before halftime — and continually cleared away any glimmer of an opening the Panthers might have found.
"It was a team effort defensively," said Planamenta, adding that it was the Hurricanes' finest defensive performance of the season.
After squandering two point-blank chances 11 minutes into the game, one on a phenomenal save by Plant goalkeeper Lauryn Bodden one-on-one against PHU's Kelly Phipps, the Hurricanes (20-0-1) grabbed their first goal when Phipps was pulled down in the box after a perfectly weighted through ball from Anja Decker.
Brinkman coolly knocked the penalty kick straight down the middle to put PHU ahead just before the first water break.
The Hurricanes continued applying pressure through the rest of the first half and into the second and were rewarded when Lombard's 40-yard free kick found Brinkman's head in the box for a 2-0 lead with 30 minutes remaining.
"Their second goal was gorgeous," Plant coach Steve McGill said. "It was a beautiful ball. No one's going to save that."
The Hurricanes' defense did the rest, keeping the Panthers off the scoreboard for their fourth shutout in four games since the start of the district tournament.