LAND O’LAKES — It could have been Sunlake’s breakthrough.
Frustrated and ever mindful of having never beaten rival Land O’Lakes, the Seahawks got a goal on the last play of the first half Tuesday and the score was 1-1. But instead of Sunlake capitalizing it was the Gators who took control for a 2-1 road victory.
Raquel Villarreal got the winner after her first attempt was stopped by Landon Carter, who looked stunned the rebound attempt found the net.
“I didn’t think it was going in; I thought it was going high. But I took the chance,” said Villarreal, who was set up by senior Brooke Silvest on the score with 13 minutes remaining.
Both teams came in undefeated and untested, with LOL (7-0) netting more than five goals a game and Sunlake averaging a 6-0 victory.
“We needed a tough game. We needed good competition,” said Gators coach Vicky King.
Sunlake certainly supplied it with a dominating first 15 minutes that saw Emily Higgins and the feisty Kim Devoe infiltrate the Gators’ defensive third to the tune of a 5-1 shot advantage.
But goaltender Lauren Arrabito came up big, especially when Carly Hill broke in free in the 16th minute. Then the Gators took advantage of a favorable bounce from midfield that sent in freshman Samantha Epifanio alone. Her attempt was stopped but came right to Savanna Ronk for the putaway.
However the Seahawks (4-1) got their tying score in injury time off a long free kick by Cassidy Place that settled to Higgins. Despite that Sunlake, which held an 8-3 shot advantage at the time, didn’t have the same offensive spirit in the second half and managed just three shots. Arrabito needed to make only one save in the second half.
“It’s a mental block with Land O’Lakes,” said Seahawks coach Jami Finan, who said her team got deflated after the first goal. “That’s what happens with us against them. This should have been the night we could have won.”
The Gators have taken three straight in the rivalry after three consecutive ties. Land O’Lakes played strong defense despite being without two starters due to injury (Caitlan Matthews, Lacy Nasello). Sophomore Maci Galan was especially solid in the second half at cutting down Sunlake runs on the wing.
For the Seahawks, freshman Hannah Presson was impressive in midfield, holding her own against the senior Silvest. Another ninth-grader, Emma Hanuok, made critical clears on defense.