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State's best awaits Ram-Buc winner

When playing the Palm Harbor University girls soccer team, Jeff Thompson searches for small victories inside the loss.

Like when his Gulf team trailed the Hurricanes 1-0 at halftime on Jan. 7 before PHU scored four unanswered goals in the second half.

"You can only contain Palm Harbor so long, and then they just start coming through in waves," Thompson said. "They're just so good. They're so much more talented. It's tough to go against them because you can't just stop one person. They're amazing."

That said, No. 4 seed Gulf and No. 5 seed Ridgewood play at 7 p.m. today in the first round of the Class 3A, District 9 tournament at Land O'Lakes to see who will play the defending 4A state champions (19-1 overall, 8-0 in 3A-6) on Thursday.

"Neither of us really wants to play Palm Harbor," Thompson said. "We're kind of looking at it like (today) is our championship game. It's a big task to knock off a state champion. I think everybody knew coming into this season the race was for second in our district."

In its two games against PHU, Ridgewood lost 10-0 and 9-1. Gulf fared a little better, losing 4-0 and 5-0. Ridgewood coach John Herig still insists playing PHU isn't a guaranteed loss.

"I believe any team can beat any team on any given day," he said. "It all depends on the girls. If our girls come in pumped up for a change and their girls are thinking, "Oh, it's Ridgewood. Well, we're going to coast through it.' Anything can happen."

The Rams (7-9-1, 1-7) beat Gulf 3-1 on Dec. 8 and lost to it 3-1 on Jan. 3.

Sophomore forward Amanda Salvarezza leads the Rams with 12 goals and 10 assists. Freshman forward Taylor Greene has eight goals and two assists while junior forward Mariah Wolf has seven goals and three assists. Crystal Phillips, who took over in goal midway through the season, is 6-4 with five shutouts.

"I've had nine different girls on my defense this year, which I thought was going to be my strong point," Herig said. "But due to kids moving, grades and some injuries, I've got a whole new defense."

The Bucs (10-8-2, 1-6-1) are led by Trish Dolatowski (eight goals, eight assists), Lisa Hair (12 goals, four assists) and Maggie Shaw (10 goals, nine assists).

"This is a big rivalry for us," Thompson said of today's game. "There's usually no love lost. It's always a battle."