LAND O'LAKES — Freshman Samantha Epifanio scored the winning goal off a corner kick with 20 minutes remaining and Land O'Lakes improved to 15-0 with a 1-0 victory over a depleted Sunlake squad Wednesday night.
"It's always hard for us to play them," Gators coach Vicky King said. "They play us strong, and for them to not have many subs, it's to their credit."
Sunlake (10-2-2) had no substitutes available the entire second half. The Seahawks recently lost 13-goal scorer Emily Higgins, likely for the year because of a torn medial collateral ligament in her knee. Then two more players went out in the first 20 minutes Wednesday, including Maddisen Traver, who was kicked in the left shin and had to be taken for X-rays. Then a hard shot attempt from Land O' Lakes midfielder Brooke Silvest caught Reagan Goiran flush in the face. She was tested for a possible concussion. The results were not immediately available.
With about five minutes left in the first half a Sunlake player asked to be subbed out, only to be met with a "I don't have anybody" from coach Jami Finan.
"I'm really proud of this team tonight," Finan said. "We fought hard, played physical and some girls really stepped it up."
Among them was Gabby Maramara, who left briefly with a gimpy ankle. After it was taped, the left wing had two chances: one hit the crossbar in the 13th minute, the other was stopped by goalie Lauren Arrabito.
The tiring Seahawks struggled to mount much offense in the second half.
Epifanio took Makenzie Fish's cross and, facing away from the net, stuck her foot out for a perfect volley. Seahawks freshman goalie Landon Carter, who had five saves, had no chance.
"It happened really quick," Epifanio said. "We're both great teams, and tonight we got one in on them."
The Gators nearly scored twice in the first five minutes before the game slowed down. Sunlake had adjusted its defense, which was anchored by Saint Leo commitment Cassidy Place and Carly Hill. Place, a forward with a has team-best 21 goals, played back Wednesday against the Gators.
Place believes she knows what it will take to finally close the gap on Land O' Lakes come district tournament time. The Seahawks have never beaten their rivals, and both losses this season have come against the Gators.
"We have to get it out of our heads that we're playing Land O'Lakes," Place said. "It's a total mind game against them."