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In his two years as the Hudson boys soccer head coach, Ron Ladimir had probably never been as mad as he was back on Jan. 13, when he walked away from the field where his Cobras had been beaten once again by River Ridge.
He cracked his players. He used unprintable adjectives to describe the play. He questioned if they had the mettle to be better than just good.
Strangely enough, he got the answers he was looking for in a loss last week to River Ridge.
The Knights won 4-3 on three penalty kicks and a goal the Cobras insist was scored by an offsides player. The way the goals were scored left Hudson feeling it had been robbed, but also as if it had won.
"I want to say yes, that game helped get us over the hump, but technically, I can't because we really didn't win," Ladimir said. "But the kids know in their heart they can play with them."
Confidence-wise, that is an important distinction to make as No. 1 seed Hudson (17-6) faces Central at 8 p.m in the Class 2A, District 6 semifinal. The other semifinal pits Zephyrhills against Springstead.
Since the first River Ridge loss, the Cobras have gone only 2-2, but one loss was the 4-3 loss. The other was 1-0 to Land O'Lakes, another game they feel they could have won. Ladimir can live with both.
"One of those two teams is going to the final four," Ladimir said. "They are the fifth-ranked team (the Gators) and the eight-ranked teams in 3A, which is a higher classification than us, and we could have beaten them both."
Therefore, Ladimir said, the Cobras feel they are ready for a playoff run through Class 2A competition.
"They are very confident, and that's the main thing at this point," Ladimir said. "They want to defend the district and get that right to play the first regional playoff game at home. That's a big thing."
The Cobras rolled through district competition this season, losing only to No. 2 Springstead (10-4-2) and are expected to reach the final. Hudson beat Central _ which beat Pasco on Monday _ twice, though one was only a 1-0 shutout.
"We've got to play better against Hudson," Central coach John Andruss said. "They've got a group of guys who are tough to handle. If we give up three goals against Hudson, that game will be over."
Despite some offensive struggles this season, Ladimir thinks his team will get those three goals, especially with Robert Pollock coming off his first career hat trick against River Ridge. It scored seven in recent wins over Wesley Chapel and Ridgewood and is playing as well as it has all season.
He dismisses overconfidence as a possible stumbling block, even if the Cobras appear to be pretty certain they will win a second consecutive title.
"I won't let them get complacent," Ladimir said. "I think we have too many seniors to let that happen. I don't think any will play any college ball, and half probably won't ever play again (even in rec leagues), so this is it. They don't want to waste the opportunity."
The Bulldogs (10-14-1) have been the runner-up in the district the past two seasons and was expected to be in a rebuilding mode. But after beating Hernando 3-1 Monday after getting goals from three players _ including the John Briscoe's 20th _ it has its sights set on the final.
Springstead coach John Bifulco will counter Zephyrhills' up-and-down offense with a senior-laden defensive group led by goaltender Pete Calabrese, considered one of the best around. Calabrese has a 1-0 shutout over the Bulldogs to his credit.
"You're not going to get 4-0, 5-0 games going through the district," Bifulco said. "You have to have confidence in your defense and keeper, and we do."
Springstead is 2-0 against Zephyrhills, but both games were decided by a single goal.
"We beat Zephyrhills both times, but they have the personnel that possibly could win the tournament," Bifulco said. "We'll need our A game."
_ Staff writer Brant James contributed to this report.