PALM HARBOR — For 20 minutes, Palm Harbor University was on its heels, trying to find a way to slow down East Lake's aggressive attack.
There was no score in the bitter rivalry, but the Hurricanes knew they needed a goal from their sometimes stagnant offense to slow down the momentum.
Alexis Mouton provided it.
The senior forward scored midway through the first half to give PHU the lead. Mouton didn't stop, adding two more goals to lift the Hurricanes to a 3-0 win in the Class 5A, District 7 semifinals.
PHU (13-0-5) will host Plant (13-3-1), which beat Steinbrenner 3-2, in tonight's final at 7.
"That first goal was so important because it took the pressure of us," Mouton said. "East Lake was very dominant early on, and that goal solidified things for us. It helped slow everything down and let us know we can win."
The Hurricanes defense has been solid, allowing six goals all season. But PHU had trouble finishing on offense, and the lack of scoring led to five ties, a big reason it fell to the No. 3 seed in the tournament and was forced to play the Eagles in the semifinals.
East Lake had the better results lately, knocking off PHU in the region semifinals the past two seasons. Thursday's game had even more at stake because it came in the district semifinals, the loser missing out on the state playoffs.
Mouton helped change things in the rivalry thanks to her offensive outburst. She has become a bona fide scoring threat in the district tournament, scoring three goals in the Hurricanes' 4-1 win over Alonso in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
"We've had some issues finishing," PHU coach John Planamenta said. "It's something I talked about with the team and with Alexis before the tournament started.
"And we needed against East Lake because they outplayed us for most of the game."
4A-10: Osceola, Seminole advance
Seminole and Osceola reached the title game with 3-1 victories against Clearwater and Northeast, respectively.
Host Osceola benefitted from a Northeast own-goal in the first two minutes then held on.
Osceola beat Northeast 4-0 in the regular season. When junior Alison Watkins played the first cross of the game into a Viking defender for an own-goal, it looked like a blowout was brewing.
However, the Vikings stiffened thanks in great part to senior Mikera Williams.
Watkins' goal in the sixth minute off an assist from Samantha Pifer made it 2-0.
The two-goal lead held until the second half, when Northeast senior Courtney Fink collided with Osceola's Jessica Brown in goal. Fink was awarded the penalty kick, which she buried.
With 20 minutes left to play, the Vikings got on a fastbreak. Brown charged out to shut it down, but the ball ricocheted off her and was played at the empty net.
Only a last-second swoop-in from Gabby Holcombe cleared the ball away to safety. The final two minutes decided the game.
"It was so scary. We dropped everyone back. They moved everyone up," Watkins said. "I heard someone call for it (the ball), and I just blocked it and went."
Alison took the ball outside and outraced the rest of the field to tap the ball into the empty net with just seconds remaining.
"I think that's the longest run of my life to goal," Watkins said.
At Seminole, the Warhawks turned it on after a slow start to beat Clearwater.
"We were a little sluggish early on," Seminole coach Gary Kolb said. "We became more aggressive and dictated the tempo in the second half."
Seminole had goals from Leah Rapuano, Sarah Reinhold and Brandy Maulucci.
Gabrielle John, a freshman who leads the Warhawks with 21 goals this season, sat out Thursday's game because she needed to be cleared by doctors after suffering concussion-like symptoms in last week's Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship game against St. Petersburg, Kolb said.
John is expected to be cleared to play in tonight's final.
Times correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this report.