Last season was the first since 1994 that a Pinellas County team didn't advance to the boys soccer state final four. This year's semifinals and final will be played just across the bay at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium. A look at who has the goods to break the county's short-lived drought:
Two with state championship aspirations
1. East Lake (17-0-4): East Lake has the most well-rounded team in the county, and it shows in the Eagles' gaudy record. Nick Patterson (14 goals) and Josh Gonzalez (nine goals) give East Lake plenty of firepower up front. The midfield is deep and talented, and the defense rarely makes a mistake. Add to that goalkeeper David Kirkbride, who has 12 shutouts and allowed only nine goals all season, and the Eagles are a serious contender for a state title. More than one publication has tagged East Lake as the top team in Class 5A.
2. Palm Harbor University (17-4-4): Last season, the Hurricanes entered the district tournament as the team most likely to win state, but they were upset in the 5A-9 final by East Lake. Six days later, PHU was unceremoniously knocked from the playoffs by Jesuit. While the Eagles have received most of the accolades this season, the PCAC title-winning Hurricanes have slid under the radar a bit. But don't be fooled. PHU can beat any team in the state on any given day.
Five more hoping to crash the party
1. Lakewood (9-4-2): Lakewood had a Cinderella-like run through the regular season, earning the top seed in 5A-11 and an appearance in the PCAC championship. But the Spartans haven't won back-to-back playoff games this century (they made the region final in 1999). That lack of experience could hurt Lakewood. Still, we're not ready to write them off just yet.
2. St. Petersburg (7-4-2): St. Petersburg is winless in the playoffs since 1999, but the Green Devils are the top seed in 6A-7 after going 3-1-1 in the district during the regular season and beating No. 2 seed Sickles head-to-head. The Green Devils are in good position to end their playoff blues. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.
3. Countryside (12-5-7): The Cougars won a state title in 2006. This year's squad is ubertalented but is probably still a season or two from getting back to the final four.
4. Seminole (12-8-3): This season has been a strange one for a Seminole team not used to playing second fiddle to anybody in the south county. It's rare that a Seminole squad misses out on the PCAC championship and the district's top seed in the same year, yet, somewhat quietly, the Warhawks are rounding into their familiar championship form.
5. Shorecrest (14-3-3): The last week of the season has been somewhat of a downer for the Chargers after losing to Indian Rocks Christian on Tuesday and missing out on the Bay Conference championship. Still, the Chargers are Pinellas' best hope in Class 2A. As always, the road to the final four travels through Tampa Prep, but if Shorecrest can get by the Terrapins, look out.
Class 6A-7 at Mitchell
schedule: Monday: Alonso (3) vs. Gaither (6), 6; Countryside (4) vs. Mitchell (5), 8. Wednesday: Sickles (2) vs. TBD, 6; St. Petersburg (1) vs. TBD, 8. Friday: final, 7.
Defending champion: Gaither; runnerup: Alonso
Favorite: St. Petersburg hasn't made the playoffs since winning the district in 2005, but as the tourney's top seed, the Green Devils have a golden opportunity to advance this season.
Spoiler alert: Countryside played as tough a regular-season schedule as any area team. The Cougars are the most battle-tested team in the draw.
Class 5A-9 at Palm Harbor University
schedule: Monday: Tarpon Springs (4) vs. Pinellas Park (5), 4; Dunedin (3) vs. Clearwater (6), 6; East Lake (2) vs. Largo (7), 8. Wednesday: TBD semifinal, 6; Palm Harbor U. (1) vs. TBD, 8. Friday: final, 7.
Defending champion: East Lake; runnerup: Palm Harbor University
Favorite: Last season's final between East Lake and PHU, which the Eagles won on penalty kicks, was arguably the best game of the year. The Eagles were underdogs in that game, but the favorite this time.
Spoiler alert: Hard to call the district's top seed a spoiler, but the Hurricanes have yet to beat East Lake this season. More than likely, they'll get chance No. 4 in the district final.
Class 5A-11 at Osceola
schedule: Monday: Osceola (4) vs. Northeast (5), 4; Dixie Hollins (3) vs. Boca Ciega (6), 6; Seminole (2) vs. Gibbs (7), 8. Wednesday: TBD semifinal, 6; Lakewood (1) vs. TBD, 8. Friday: final, 7.
Defending champion: Seminole; runnerup: Northeast
Favorite: Lakewood, which last won a district title in 2005, emerged as the team to beat after finishing undefeated in the district. A tie against Dixie Hollins is the only result that kept the Spartans from a perfect district mark.
Spoiler alert: Seminole has won three straight district titles and is peaking at the right time behind Shane Wixted (five goals, four assists in last four games).
Class 3A-9 at Tampa Catholic
schedule: Monday: Lennard (4) vs. Clearwater Central Catholic (5), 5. Wednesday: St. Petersburg Catholic (2) vs. Tampa Catholic (3), 5; Berkeley Prep (1) vs. TBD, 7. Friday, final, 7.
Defending champion: Berkeley Prep; runnerup: Tampa Catholic
Favorite: Berkeley Prep won 20 games and lost only once all season, but the Buccaneers are vulnerable. They won each of their district matchups by just one goal.
Spoiler alert: Behind Adam Skonicki's torrid scoring pace (23 goals through Thursday), St. Petersburg Catholic is looking for its first district title since 2006.
Class 2A-10 at Tampa Prep
schedule: Tuesday: Calvary Christian (2) vs. Cambridge (3), 5; Tampa Prep (1) vs. Indian Rocks Christian (4), 7. Friday: final, 7.
Defending champion: Tampa Prep; runnerup: Calvary Christian
Favorite: 2004 was the last year Tampa Prep didn't win a district title, but the Terrapins, state champions in three of the past four seasons, aren't as dominant as in years past.
Spoiler alert: IRC is 7-0-1 in its past eight games and has been buoyed by the return of Jonny Sitton, who has played just seven games but scored 12 times.
Class 2A-11 at Shorecrest
schedule: Monday: Keswick Christian (4) vs. Canterbury (5), 5. Tuesday: Admiral Farragut (2) vs. Northside Christian (3), 5; Shorecrest (1) vs. TBD, 7. Friday: final, 7:30.
Defending champion: Shorecrest; runnerup: Northside Christian
Favorite: Led by county scoring leader Stephen Spanos (38 goals), Shorecrest is an overwhelming favorite to win its fourth-straight title.
Spoiler alert: Northside Christian beat Shorecrest 2-0 early in the season, but the Chargers were playing with a depleted roster at the time.