TAMPA — Minutes turned to seconds on the Pepin Stadium clock, and the Palm Harbor University spectators began counting down toward the Hurricanes' fourth girls soccer state championship and second in four years under coach John Planamenta.
Hurricane players stood guard in front of PHU goalkeeper Christina Brewer. Hearing the fans, they raised their arms in celebration with the realization their 3-1 lead would hold up as the final score.
Thirteen minutes earlier, the game remained in doubt. But tied at 1 and momentum on undefeated George Jenkins' side having scored the last goal, PHU freshman Paige Lombard held off a defender on her right hip while dribbling toward the left edge of the goal.
Passing up a decent scoring opportunity, Lombard centered the ball to a wide-open Anja Decker streaking to the goal mouth. George Jenkins goalkeeper Caitlyn Currie got her hand on the pass, but Decker scored anyway to put the Hurricanes back in front 2-1.
Decker was inserted into the game for the first time two minutes earlier.
"I was freaking out. I was just thinking on the bench I just want to go in even for five minutes and try and put one in," Decker said.
Moments later, PHU midfielder Heather Mariscal was fouled in the box by Currie after outracing the keeper to a ball. Currie was given a red card, and junior forward Catherine Brinkman crossed up backup goalie Karlin Aloisio for her 34th goal of the season, second of the game and, more importantly, a 3-1 lead with 8:59 to go.
"It's amazing. I don't think I could have dreamt for something like this to happen," Brinkman said. "It's incredible."
After an uneventful opening 20 minutes, PHU (22-2) began to assert itself. The Hurricanes pushed the ball deep into Eagles territory and Lombard ripped a shot off a throw-in. The rebound came to Brinkman on the edge of the box, and her one touch volley to the left corner gave the Hurricanes a lead with 12:10 left in the first half against a George Jenkins (26-1-1) team not used to playing from behind.
"To get the first goal, it means everything," Brinkman said. "It puts so much pressure on a team."
The goal, though, sounded more like an alarm clock to the Eagles. They controlled the rest of the first half, and four minutes after halftime, Christine Knudstrup muscled a rebound through a scrum of defenders to tie the score 1-1. That play was set up by a foul on the edge of the box. Kayla Bala's free kick was punched off the crossbar by Brewer (three saves) but back in harm's way.
Friday, Planamenta won his 200th career high school game with the victory over Satellite.
"It was a hard-fought game on both sides," Planamenta said in the glow of win No. 201. "But this ranks right up there for sure because it was a tough road to get here.