TAMPA — Steinbrenner's defense — which had allowed just nine goals in 16 games before Wednesday's Class 5A, District 7 semifinal — had already proven itself to be thick-skinned through some of the greatest of challenges.
But with 17 minutes to go against Palm Harbor University, a playoff spot on the line, the Warriors were met with perhaps their biggest obstacle yet.
Shortly after Andres Saenz scored Steinbrenner's second goal in the 57th minute, Austin Labban was issued a red card. And a few minutes later, David McGee received his second yellow of the night. Both were benched and couldn't be replaced, and the Warriors had to play down two men the rest of the game.
Using most of its man power to defend its lead, Steinbrenner eventually won 2-1 after a strong defensive effort late kept the Hurricanes from scoring. Steinbrenner will play East Lake on Friday in the championship.
After Wednesday's win, Steinbrenner (15-1-1) coach Chad Ebright seemed relieved to have simply gotten by. Much like the first semifinal of the night — when East Lake (15-1) topped Plant 2-0 after a pair of Josh Page goals — referees stopped play often for fouls and penalties, and the Warriors and Hurricanes accrued eight yellow cards and one red card between them.
The Warriors' infractions were far more costly.
"It's very tough (to play man down). You have to just defend, and that's not our game," Ebright said. "We were lucky to win that one."
In the 18th minute, Steinbrenner took a shot that PHU's Jacob Carson attempted to clear. Steinbrenner midfielder Blake Wilson intercepted then shot the ball, which deflected off the post into the goal. The Warriors later led 2-0 after Saenz's score until a penalty in the box allowed Carson to take a penalty kick, on which he scored.
In the second half, PHU, which outshot Steinbrenner, had three shots bounce off the posts, including a free kick in the 80th minute that hit the crossbar and went over the net.
5A-6 at Strawberry Crest: Durant, a three seed coming in, qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and top seed Newsome also won in Wednesday's semifinals. Durant defeated No. 2 Riverview 3-1, and Newsome cruised 7-1 over No. 5 seed Strawberry Crest.
Luis Bustamante put Durant (7-4-2) up 1-0 in the 37th minute, but Riverview (12-4-2) tied it a minute later on Reed Service's goal. In the waning seconds of the half, Ivan Chavez scored on a 35-yard blast that went in off a Riverview defender.
In the second half, Durant goalkeeper Logan Whitney preserved the lead by getting his right hand on Marc Lozada's rising shot from the top of the penalty box. Javier Jimenez finished the scoring by popping the ball over keeper Charlie Stephens as he broke in with Adrian Chavez.
"That last one was beautiful," Durant coach Jorge Salmeron said. "No one expected Durant to do much this season, but we just kept playing. We were just playing the game."
Newsome (14-5-1) built a 3-0 lead 10 minutes in on two goals by Jake Vander Luit and one by Eric Lint. Keeper Nick Kubecka saved a penalty kick by Vander Luit, who stuffed home the rebound. Lint and Vander Luit then scored on goals tucked inside the left post.
Lint scored again in the 22nd minute, then completed his hat trick with a penalty kick in the 45th minute. Austin Cobb added two goals for Newsome.
Steve Lee, Times correspondent