TAMPA — The way Sickles' players howled, huddled in jubilation and hoisted the Wharton Invitational trophy Thursday night seemed more befitting a state championship aftermath. But this was no normal tournament title for the Gryphons.
It was the first in the program's 13-year existence.
Behind senior Patrick Miller's two first-half goals and a stonewall-type defense, the Gryphons, 22nd nationally in the latest ESPN Rise Fab 50 rankings, earned a 2-0 triumph against East Bay in the final match of this four-day, 16-team event. With the trophy came a milestone.
It was the 50th victory for the nucleus of Gryphons fourth-year seniors.
"It's great to see that they actually have kept these stats and have been thinking about their senior year," coach Tony Calvo said.
The Gryphons (19-1-3), who allowed only one goal in five tournament matches, held East Bay (14-3-1) to a pair of shots, the first coming with 29:20 to play in the match. Calvo called the defensive effort "awesome." Miller's term: "incredible."
"We're putting in goals," Miller said, "but they're keeping us in the game."
Miller's first goal, in the fourth minute, originated with a free kick goalkeeper Brandon Stout sent deep into East Bay's zone that Boris Simeunovic headed. The second, eight minutes later, was set up when Simeunovic sent a low cross from the left side toward the back post that Miller flicked in from roughly 12 yards.
Sickles finished with 13 shots, watching several other prime opportunities stifled by Indians keeper Derrick Miranda.
In the third-place match, Hillsborough got first-half goals from Kyle McKay and Kofi Forkuoh in a 2-1 win against King. The Terriers survived a last-minute shot off the post by Lions senior Ricardo Socci to escape.