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Countryside girls need overtime to top River Ridge again

The soccer matches between the teams have been close all season, but the Cougars are the ones moving on in regionals.

CLEARWATER — Countryside had no interest in repeating its first meeting with River Ridge, obvious since it resulted in a 1-0 defeat. For that matter, the Cougars weren’t keen on having an encore of the teams’ second clash, even though it resulted in a district girls soccer championship for Countryside just four days prior.

“We did not want to go to penalty kicks again. It was so scary,” said Chloey Conte, the offensive hero Tuesday, but the PK-round goalkeeper last Friday when the Cougars procured the Class 5A, District 9 crown.

For some time Tuesday both outcomes seemed possible, but with its season’s continuation on the line, Countryside ensured neither was the case. Although it fell behind 1-0 and stayed there for a half hour, Countryside, seeded third in its region, evened the score, then was the aggressor in overtime and got rewarded with a 2-1 victory.

Lona Truong pounced on a failed River Ridge clearance 4:37 into the first overtime period. Joselyn Granata’s long free kick bounced high over a Knights defender and Truong was ready to slot home her 13th goal.

“Joselyn, we always let her take those kicks and I knew it was going to go behind,” Truong said. “That’s how we score a lot of our goals, just me sneaking in behind. I was just able to keep my composure and finish it.”

With two, 10-minute sessions guaranteed — as opposed to the sudden death format of recent years — River Ridge still had a chance and nearly tied it but Giulia Desiderio’s effort hit the post in the second overtime.

Countryside (11-5-1) controlled play for the most part and deserved the win, but had to fight from behind as Desiderio supplied the game’s first threatening cross, one-timed home by Jess Jagoda in the 20th minute.

River Ridge (14-8-3) chose to play counter-attack the rest of the way and it benefitted Countryside.

“We’re a possession team. They changed strategies two to three times, we never did,” said Countryside coach Chris Duffy. The possession resulted in the visiting Knights’ not having a shot for a span of 45 minutes, all the while Conte getting seven herself.

But she was denied by the crossbar in the waning moments of the first half, not long after Desiderio’s point-range bid for 2-0 was stopped by Countryside keeper Emily Cerda. River Ridge’s Alyssa Roller made a key block on Conte early in the second half, and a 1-0 Royal Knights scoreline looked bound to repeat.

However River Ridge, which committed 12 fouls to Countryside’s six, set up the equalizer with a hard foul. A free kick was given just outside of the penalty box, and from the left side Conte pushed a shot into the upper right corner that Madison Gates (seven saves) got a hand on but went in.

“As long as we just played defense and kept attacking, we were eventually going to get one, or two,” said Conte.

The junior only has four goals but there’s an explanation: Tuesday was just her fourth game in the field, the others spent in goal or on the bench due to injury.

She was the focal point offensively, collecting nine of the Countryside’s 17 shots. Caitlin Megargel and Desiderio were omnipresent for River Ridge, with Megargel creating a constant threat from long range. Her free kick nearly won it for the Knights late in regulation, and Desiderio’s physical effort to beat two Countryside players to the ball in the second overtime nearly tied it, her flicked attempt instead bounding off the left post.

Megargel gutted through the game with a chipped tooth, suffered when she got kicked in the face early on. And Countryside captain Ashley Chlopek, already sporting a big cast on her left hand, spent around 20 minutes on the bench with leg injuries and also took a hard spill in the penalty box.

Region semifinals

Games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted.

7A: Lakewood Ranch at Plant

7A: Windermere at Newsome

6A: No. 5 East Lake at No. 1 Venice

6A: No. 3 St. Petersburg at No. 2 Wiregrass Ranch

5A: No. 3 Countryside at No. 2 North Fort Myers

5A: No. 5 Lecanto at No. 1 Land O’ Lakes

4A: No. 5 Nature Coast at No. 1 Lemon Bay

4A: No. 3 Dunedin at No. 2 Wesley Chapel

3A: No. 5 Berkeley Prep at No. 1 Holy Names

2A: No. 4 Sarasota Out-of-Door at No. 1 Shorecrest

2A: No. 5 Carrolwood Day at No. No. 1 Cambridge Christian, 3:30