Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

Plant City boys soccer aims for return to playoffs

A lot of county soccer players have posted better offensive statistics than Edgar Morales.

But for Plant City, Morales is way more valuable than any numbers can reveal.

Morales, who leads the team with eight goals, is the only starter who has suited up for each and every one of the Raiders' games.

"We've had just about everything bad that can happen to a team," Plant City coach Chris Black said.

The Raiders hope to render all of the obstacles mere blips when they host the District 4A-9 tournament.

Plant City is the No. 3 seed, and despite a decidedly up-and-down season is in a good spot to claim one of the district's two playoff spots. The Raiders take on No. 6 seed Hillsborough in the last of Tuesday's three first-round games.

Strawberry Crest is the No. 1 seed and gets a bye into Thursday's semifinals. The semifinal winners will meet Jan. 25 at 7 for the district title with the champ getting to host a regional playoff game while the runnerup hits the road.

Last year, the Raiders dominated district play and had state title aspirations before disaster hit. They were up 3-0 in the playoff opener against Clearwater before falling behind, tying the game in extra time and then losing in penalty kicks. Strawberry Crest also made the playoffs but got knocked out 7-0 by eventual state finalists Seminole.

Though it appears the Chargers are the team to beat this time around, Black isn't conceding anything.

"We feel like we can compete for the district if we have everybody there," he said. "That's been a bit of a problem. We've played 18 games and literally, have had 18 different lineups. Edgar is the only starter to play every game without an injury or something else."

Plant City has had five players miss time due to red-card infractions, by far the most costly being the loss of one of its best performers Juan Navarrete. But assuming the Raiders can take care of Hillsborough, a team it defeated 3-1 this season, Navarrete's six-week suspension ends in time for the semifinals.

Recently, the Raiders took on state power Palmetto at the Berkeley Prep Invitational and had seven starters out. The Raiders have played in two events over the last month, splitting six contests. Last week they went 2-1 at the King Invitational with the loss coming to tourney champion Riverview.

Goalkeeper Evan Storie has been a big factor in most of Plant City's wins. At 10-8-1 overall, Plant City has what Black calls a "legit shot" at winning districts. Seeding went about as well as it could, as the Raiders' 3-3 league mark nudged them ahead of comparable squads East Bay and Tampa Bay Tech, who had fewer district losses but at 2-2-2 wound up with one less standings point.

Brandon claimed the No. 2 seed but has been struggling of late, in fact losing last week to Armwood at the King tourney — Armwood is the team Brandon plays to kick off the district tournament (Tuesday at 3 p.m.).

The Raiders' seeding puts them in the bracket opposite of Strawberry Crest. Plant City would take on the Brandon-Armwood winner in a Thursday 7 p.m. semifinal. Strawberry Crest faces the East Bay-TBT winner Thursday at 5.

Both local squads have been off for a week but get one final regular-season test tonight. Strawberry Crest is traveling to Newsome while the Raiders host Wharton.

Meanwhile, Durant readies for the Class 5A, District 7 tournament with a tuneup against Freedom. The Cougars face an uphill battle with Plant and Newsome among the tourney favorites.

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