LAND O’LAKES — The ball bounced Sunlake’s way for 30 perfect games.
In the final 20 minutes of the 31st, the ball finally rolled the other direction.
Ponte Vedra’s Michael Lee scored with 18 minutes left on a corner kick that couldn’t be cleared to end the best season in Seahawks history with a 2-1 home loss in Friday’s Class 3A state semifinals. The Sharks (23-2-4) advance to play defending champion Plantation American Heritage for the state title.
“It’s so hard to comprehend,” Sunlake star Connor Gilboy said.
Especially after the start of the season and the game for the Seahawks (30-1).
Three minutes into the second half, Gilboy chipped the ball ahead to Connor Spencer, who saw Ponte Vedra goalkeeper Kevin Shields creeping up.
“We’ve gotta get on the board soon,” Spencer thought.
His highlight-reel volley trickled into the net for his fourth goal of the playoffs — and the first allowed by the Sharks in the postseason — to give Sunlake a 1-0 lead. The Seahawks couldn’t seize momentum and lapsed into a 20-minute lull.
“That’s when they started to capitalize,” Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk said.
Ponte Vedra tied the score seven minutes later when Michael Parado knocked a cross past standout freshman goalkeeper Dan Hrenko.
But it’s the final goal that the Seahawks will be thinking about until next winter.
With 18 minutes left, the Sharks’ corner kick dropped in front of the goal and skated along the line.
“I thought 100 percent in my heart that the ball was going to be cleared out,” Gilboy said.
The ball bounced three times and slid through a defense that had allowed only 12 goals entering Friday.
“Almost like a fluke,” Koleduk said.
It finally landed at the foot of Michael Lee, who poked it past Hrenko to put the Sharks ahead for good.
Sunlake’s furious attack in the closing minutes netted several chances but no goals against Shields, who finished with 14 saves. The buzzer sounded with the ball resting near the Ponte Vedra goal, awaiting a Seahawk corner kick that never came.
“You couldn’t ask for a better senior year,” said Gilboy, who finished with a Pasco County single-season record 60 goals, “but it’s a shame to go out like that.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.