WEEKI WACHEE ó Despite winning the Class 3A, District 7 title last season, Nature Coast entered Friday nightís championship final as the underdog against Pasco. That didnít stop the Sharks from going into the contest with confidence, and that attitude paid off.
Nature Coast frustrated the top-seeded Pirates for much of the night on the way to a 2-1 victory.
"This was a great effort from all of the team," said Sharks coach Ian Wald. "(My five assistants and I) work together to make all of our decisions and the kids work together to execute. It all came together in this game."
Pasco (15-4-1) was undefeated in district play this season with its only blemish a tie against the Sharks (14-6-2) in their last meeting. The Pirates held an 11-1-2 record against Nature Coast all-time, with the only previous loss coming in last yearís district final.
Wald decided to bring his leading scorer, Vinny Stulec, back to give the team a stronger defensive presence, and despite being on the wrong end of Pascoís dominant possession, the Sharks were able to keep it scoreless going into halftime. At one point, the Pirates had outshot Nature Coast 8-1, but Sharks keeper Justice Pye (seven saves) stood tall.
"Justice was a sweeper until this year," Wald said. "He never once complained when we decided to move him to keeper, and heís worked hard to embrace that role."
The Sharks made a push at the end of the first half with two good scoring opportunities, but Nature Coast came up empty on both chances.
The second half was much of the same, but Nature Coast was more aggressive on offense. Stulec centered a pass at the 21-minute mark in the second half that overshot its intended target, but a misplay in the zone by Pasco resulted in the first goal of the match, an own goal.
Only two minutes later, a beautiful throw-in from Chris Reckner was headed just inside the far post for Stulecís 32nd goal of the season. The connection was Recknerís team-leading 16th assist.
Down 2-0, Pasco began to play desperate offensively. A couple of big saves from Pye turned the Pirates away, but on a rebound, Daniel Cruz punched in a goal with only 14 minutes left. The margin would stay that way as Pasco did not threaten again.
With its second straight district title and third in four seasons, the Sharks clinched homefield in the Class 3A region quarterfinals next week. Nature Coast will host Sunlake, while Pasco will travel to River Ridge for its quarterfinal contest.