MELBOURNE — The sturdy Saturday afternoon winds that preceded the evening frigidness on the East Coast blew horizontally across Tom McIntyre Stadium, often transforming crisp shots into curves.
Gulf Coast’s strategy: Minimizing the number of breaking balls Steinbrenner could deliver. The Warriors sent a precious few near the net Saturday, but the Sharks defenders weren’t fooled by the movement. Not one sweep and a miss.
As a result, their chilly, chapped hands were hoisting the Class 4A state title trophy by day’s end.
A Steinbrenner attack averaging 5.1 goals over its previous nine matches managed only six shots Saturday in a 2-0 loss to the Sharks. The Naples-based school (19-3-3) scored both goals in the first half, then essentially played 11 men behind the ball in the second.
“That’s what they did, and to their credit they played it well,” said Warriors coach Chad Ebright, whose side (19-3-3) was trying to become the first boys team state champion in the school’s four-year history.
“Normally teams can’t do that to us. (Ocala) Forest tried it (in the state semifinals) and we put three goals on them in three minutes. This team did it and they were successful.”
They also were extremely efficient with their handful of scoring chances.
The Sharks’ first goal occurred eight minutes into the contest, when leading scorer Clayton Curvin took an entry pass on a quick restart near the top of the 18-yard box, barely remained onsides and lofted the ball over drawn-out keeper Christian Knight.
Their second goal arrived 18 minutes later, when Vietnam native Rin Van’s 30-yard shot seemed to get carried by the wind to the far post. It was one of only four Gulf Coast shots.
“The wind definitely played a knuckle part into it,” Sharks coach Alan Scott said.
That goal allowed Gulf Coast, winner of Collier County’s first state soccer title, to sacrifice an attack for a congested backfield in the second half.
Steinbrenner’s best chance in the last 40 minutes occurred after the midpoint water break, when senior Derek Gebhard’s long ball appeared to catch a gust and nearly bounced over keeper Eric Scott’s head.
“I could’ve seen it coming; they were gonna bunker,” said Warriors midfielder Enrique Barboto, one of five Steinbrenner seniors who have been with the program since its first practice.
“It’s a state championship game, it’s what you have to do, and they got the upper hand today.”