LUTZ — Usually a non-event, the coin flip before Friday’s Class 4A, District 8 title match took on big meaning for Wiregrass Ranch. Bulls coach Eddy Costa wanted his team heading into a brisk wind to start, even though it meant an almost certain halftime deficit.
Turned out to be a heads-up move.
Wiregrass Ranch trailed 1-0 at halftime before busting out for two quick goals to start the second period, beating host Steinbrenner 2-1.
The Warriors’ 11-game winning streak was snapped.
“We just wanted to hold our own in the first half, and my girls did a great job,” Costa said. “The second half we knew we’d have way more chances. Usually we play possession but with the wind we took advantage, played more balls in the air.”
The first of those resulted in the tying goal just 3:30 into the second half. Midfielder Anne Cypriano played a harmless-looking ball from midfield and it caught some wind, making its way to standout forward A.J. Blount on the right wing. Blount looked as though she’d shoot but cut the ball back to unmarked Berlin Waters, who scored her 27th goal of the season.
“I saw her the whole way and just thought ‘get it to Berlin’ and she did the rest,” Blount said.
Blount did it herself just four minutes later, taking a through ball from Chloe Lipovetsky and outrunning the defense for 25 yards before sliding it past Warriors goalkeeper Steph Hirsch.
On the other end Wiregrass keeper Dayton Wetherby was outstanding. Less than two minutes after the Bulls went ahead Wetherby had to make an in-close save on Steinbrenner freshman Danielle Darius. The wind, and great marking from central defenders Lauren Gordon and Hannah Eder, made Wetherby’s night comparably stress-free the rest of the way.
Lauren Luzzi also did a tremendous job slowing Steinbrenner’s prolific forward Alexis Bredeau, though there was no stopping Bredeau’s strong header that put the Warriors up seven minutes before half. It was her 33rd goal of the season.
Facing a wind Wetherby described as “vicious” the Bulls had only one shot in the first half to 11 for Steinbrenner — but that shot nearly went in, as Waters hit the post early on.
Wiregrass Ranch (19-2) was the last team to have beaten the Warriors.
“Even with that, we kinda felt like we still had something to prove,” Wetherby said.
4A-4: Depleted Eagles come up short
SPRING HILL — Obstacles were nothing new to Springstead as the team looked to capture the Class 4A, District 4 crown Friday night at Booster Stadium, but with a number of players nursing illness, it just wasn’t in the cards.
The Eagles fell 1-0 to Lecanto in the championship game despite grinding out a scoreless stalemate for more than three-quarters of the contest.
“Our team is a lot better than the way we played today,” Springstead coach Scott Wern said. “Unfortunately, it just wasn’t our night.”
Armed with three 20-plus goal scorers, Springstead (17-4-1) had split its season series with the Panthers (18-5-1), but the loss at Lecanto was without four members of the Eagles’ roster. Now seemingly at full strength again, the team was optimistic about its opportunity at a district title.
Issues arose as Springstead goalkeeper Emma Betters (nine shutouts) and second-leading scorer Tara Vasquez (27 goals, 13 assists) headed a list of seven players with flu-like symptoms.
The first half was back and forth as both teams had chances to score. Springstead’s leading scorer, freshman sensation Sammie Betters (46 goals), received a pass from Nicole Morolla at midfield and broke away from the Lecanto defense alone. Making one move too many, Betters shot from point-blank range directly into Panthers keeper Megan Houpt’s legs.
When the teams went to the locker room for halftime tied 0-0, there was no way Springstead could know that would be its best chance at a goal.
Houpt had to make only five saves with the last coming right before officials blew the whistle to call an end to the action. Vasquez, who was pulled by Wern because of fatigue, was brought back in for an offensive boost and got one last shot on goal.
“The biggest thing we need to do right now is get the team healthy,” Wern said. “We need to focus on getting these girls a lot of vitamin C and rest.”
3A-8: Unbeaten Mitchell soldiers on
NEW PORT RICHEY — With a 4-1 victory over Hudson moments behind them and a home playoff game five days ahead, Mitchell’s girls soccer team wasn’t sure what to do Friday night at Gulf.
So veteran Mustangs coach Karl Kukec gave his players the instructions he should know well by now: Jog across the field to your families, and hoist the Class 3A, District 8 trophy for them to enjoy.
Mitchell (23-0-1) could celebrate after scoring three goals in a 10-minute flurry to knock off the persistent Cobras and earn the sixth district championship in program history.
“We have the potential to do anything,” forward Amanda Hayes said.
The Mustangs kept their undefeated season alive, but it didn’t come easily on one of the windiest, coldest nights of the year.
Mitchell struck first with two shots in the first 90 seconds before UConn commit Danielle Gottwik took a pass from Balea Schumacher and fired a shot into the left corner of the goal. Hudson answered in the 15th minute, when Brooke McKillen — aided by wind gusts of more than 20 mph — rocketed the Cobras’ first shot of the game into the net from 25 yards out.
“They wanted it,” Kukec said of Hudson. “They were in the game for a long time.”
But when Mitchell got the wind at its back in the second half, the Mustangs used it to push themselves ahead for good. The assault began when Baylor Cherry’s perfectly-placed corner kick in the 58th minute found Hayes in the box.
“When it hit my head, I knew it was going in,” Hayes said. “When I saw it go into the net smooth, I was just thanking God.”
After her header crossed the line for her 29th goal of the season, Hayes quickly moved from praying to preaching, imploring her team to play up to its abilities.
And the Mustangs piled on. Two minutes later, another Cherry corner kick found its mark, and senior defender Danielle Misener headed it for her sixth goal of the season.
With 17 minutes to go, Taylor Meek knocked a long free kick into the upper corner of the net to score her 25th goal of the year and seal her team’s second district title in the past three seasons.
The Mustangs advance to host Sunlake in Wednesday’s Class 3A region quarterfinal. Hudson (13-6-2) will travel to Land O’Lakes.
3A-7: Business as usual for Gators
WESLEY CHAPEL — Land O’Lakes continued its seven-year dominance over Sunlake and defended its Class 3A, District 7 title Friday with a 2-0 win.
The Gators (17-4-4) have never lost to the Seahawks (10-8-4).
“It’s a challenge,” Land O’Lakes coach Vicky King said of extending the streak. “A lot of the girls play club together and a lot of them are friends.”
The loss was bittersweet for Seahawks coach Jami Finan, whose team will make its region debut next week.
“We’re happy that we’re going to the playoffs, but it’s hard to tell them to pick their heads up,” Finan said. “We’re still in it.”
Following a scoreless first half, the Gators broke through in the 45th minute when Catherine Gray dribbled toward the middle and kicked a one-bouncer past Sunlake keeper Maya Kamat near the left post. That marked Gray’s ninth goal of the season and second in two games, including the first goal in Land O’Lakes’ 1-0 overtime win over Wesley Chapel in the district semifinals.
The Gators doubled their lead in the 74th minute when Holly Nasello hit a rising shot that deflected into the net off the crossbar.
Makenzie Fish broke in from the right side and was stopped by a Sunlake defender, but Nasello got to the loose ball on the right side and kicked it home.
For the second straight game, keepers Arie Bailey and Lauren Arrabito shared a shutout.
3A-6: Nature Coast nabs first district crown
Nature Coast captured the Class 3A, District 6 crown Friday night for the first time with a 3-0 shutout victory over Citrus (12-9) at Leesburg.
“I felt like we were firing on all cylinders,” Nature Coast coach Lisa Masserio said. “Everyone came together.”
Nature Coast (16-2-1) never allowed a goal in three tournament games, outscoring opponents 15-0. The Sharks also were 10-0 against district opponents this season.
The team’s leading scorer from last season and most of this year, Emily Myers, suffered a season-ending knee injury before the tournament. Silvana Paonessa stepped up Friday with her 27th and 28th goals of the campaign in the first half.
The first score came when Paonessa scored on her own corner kick 18 minutes before halftime. She followed that goal with a line drive from about 30 yards out after an assist from Chelsea Reid with 11 minutes remaining.
Nature Coast keeper Samantha Oliveira recorded her 16th shutout this season.
With just over 21 minutes left to play, Lisa Soehngen scored her fourth goal of the season.
“You always imagine this moment, and then it comes,” Masserio said. “Now, I just have this overwhelming feeling that we’re not done yet. It’s a great thing to make history, but we’re not done yet.”
Times staff writer Matt Baker and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Steve Lee contributed to this report.