LAND O'LAKES — This win was important in many ways.
And it was clear from Land O'Lakes' frenzied attack Wednesday night the Gators wanted this 3-1 win against Mitchell badly.
Land O'Lakes was coming off a stunning 1-0 loss to River Ridge, reminiscent of the one-goal loss in last year's Class 5A, District 7 region quarterfinal that ended one of the Gators' most promising seasons.
"I thought they rebounded very well tonight," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said. "With the exception of the goal we controlled the game for the most part. I'm pleased with our effort."
This also sets up Land O'Lakes (11-2-1) for a Tampa tournament that begins Saturday with a tough test from Seminole. And of course, defeating the Mustangs marked a key Sunshine Athletic Conference victory.
Under the gaze of a handful of former players, Land O'Lakes recaptured some swagger.
The Gators were led by senior Felix Soto, who scored a pair of goals and narrowly missed a third late in the game. He gave the Gators a 1-0 lead in the first half, punching in a cross from junior Andrew Gorgen inside the far post past Mitchell keeper Robbie Wallace.
In the second half, Soto made it 2-0, collecting a deflection off the crossbar via the foot of Dominic Cutrofello.
"He's a very gifted athlete," Pearson said of Soto. "We were joking the other day he probably couldn't figure out how many championships he has won between cross country and soccer."
The Mustangs (6-6) fought hard and their effort was rewarded roughly nine minutes later thanks to a goal by senior Alex Wegener.
The Gators put the game out of reach on a free kick by Frankie Villar that skirted the right side of a human wall, squeezing between Wallace and the post. Villar had left the game briefly because of a hamstring injury sustained in Monday's loss, but is expected to play Saturday.