NEW PORT RICHEY — The outcomes were similar, but how Mitchell and Sickles arrived at their Class 4A, District 8 semifinal victories Thursday was anything but.
Top-seeded Mitchell looked every bit an undefeated team in its 4-0 takedown of Wiregrass Ranch. But Sickles had to rally to knock off Freedom 4-1, Brianna Hamson scoring twice on penalty kicks.
Mitchell (21-0) hosts Sickles (10-4-1) in tonight's final. Mitchell won the regular-season matchup 4-1.
Freshman Sabrina Wagner scored her 35th and 36th goals for Mitchell. And senior Danielle Gottwick, who didn't play when the Mustangs edged Wiregrass 2-1 in the regular season, controlled the midfield and had three assists.
"(Gottwick) made a big difference for us," said Wagner.
The Bulls' only chance was goalie Amanda Melosky, a basketball standout playing just her seventh game this season. And for about 20 minutes, it seemed possible as the 5-foot-11 Melosky kept the game scoreless.
But Balea Schumacher solved Melosky, using the outside of her foot to flick in a shot. Freshman Noah Stokes made it 2-0 six minutes later with a header off Baylor Cherry's corner kick.
"The goalie was very good," Gottwick said. "She's pretty tall, so we tried to shoot low on her."
That's how both of Wagner's second-half scores, each on a Gottwick setup, went in.
Wiregrass Ranch (14-6-2) did not get a shot on net until 26 minutes remained in the game.
"Our ultimate goal is to go to state," Gottwick said. "Our team chemistry is better this year. Everyone plays to each other's strengths very well."
In the second semifinal, Sickles avenged a 3-1 defeat to Freedom. The Patriots took the lead when Emily Dabrowski found herself uncovered on a third-minute breakaway.
"They came out really fast, and we were flat," Sickles coach George Arroyo said. "But we knew they liked to press forward, and we could use our speed on the other end."
Indeed forwards Hamson and Stephanie Linton found wide-open space to create numerous chances, though the first goal was controversial. Freedom's Emma Eldridge was called for a foul in the penalty box. She got all of the ball but was judged to have first made contact with the player.
Hamson took the penalty kick — the first successful one for Sickles all season — to tie the score in the 18th minute. Cristina Clements made it 2-1 about 15 minutes later.
Freedom's frustrations with the officiating increased when a would-be tying goal late in the first half was called off and another penalty in the box led to Hamson making it 3-1 eight minutes after the break.
Linton capped the scoring in the 63rd minute.