TAMPA — For Jesuit coach Eric Sims, the day started by being the best man at his friend’s wedding. It ended with him having the best team on the field.
Carson Bien scored off a rebound in the 75th minute — his second goal of the match — to give No. 1 seed Jesuit a 4-3 victory against No. 4 Land O’ Lakes Saturday in a Class 5A region semifinal.
The Tigers (21-3-2), who advanced to a region final for the seventh consecutive season, play Wednesday against No. 2 Lake Gibson. Land O’ Lakes (13-9), a 2-1 loser to Jesuit during the regular season, was playing in a region semifinal for the first time since 2012, when it finished as a state runnerup to American Heritage.
Jesuit and Land O’ Lakes had combined for 20 shutouts this year, but the match quickly became an offensive shootout. The Tigers scored the first goal only 24 seconds in and built a 2-0 lead. But the Gators showed moxie, tying the affair by intermission and taking a 3-2 lead in the second half before the Tigers rallied.
“I don’t know if I could have forgiven myself if we would have lost — being late to the game," Sims said.
The start of the match was delayed 30 minutes so Sims could participate in the Tampa wedding of Clete Goddard, a former Jesuit assistant coach.
“He’s one of my best friends," Sims said. “So I had to get through the ceremony and make my speech, and got out of there as quick as I could."
Jesuit took advantage of a Land O’ Lakes miscue to grab the early momentum. On the match’s first possession, an errant Gator pass was intercepted by Bien, who delivered a 15-yard ball to a wide-open Lucas Gobea in front of the Land O’ Lakes goal. Gobea had only Gator goalkeeper Michael Alceste to beat, and he drilled a right-footed 10-yard blast into the right corner of the net. Only 24 seconds had expired in the match.
“Anytime you score that quick, it’s great," Sims said. “But I think it focuses the other team. We had to bear down a little bit, and we probably gave them a sense of urgency.
“I think our guys relaxed a little bit. Credit to (Land O’ Lakes), they stepped up. . . . They definitely bounced back, but our guys fought back and I was proud of the way they responded."
Bien gave Jesuit a 2-0 lead in the 28th minute. He was the recipient of a precision-like crossing pass from the right side by Kai Rodriguez, who dribbled past several Gator defenders to set up Bien.
Land O’ Lakes rallied to tie the match before halftime with a pair of goals in a four-minute span. Braden Mitchell scored first in the 31st minute. On a corner kick from the left side, Mitchell positioned himself in the middle as the ball came in. After a brief scramble in front of the Jesuit net, Mitchell put his short shot past Tiger goalkeeper Bryce Denick.
Joey Maulorico tied the match in the 35th minute. Two Jesuit players, including Denick, failed to control a long Land O’ Lakes pass, and Maulorico scored into the wide-open net.
Denick preserved the 2-all intermission deadlock with three diving saves throughout the half.
The 54th minute provided plenty of action.
Land O’ Lakes took its only lead at 3-2 when Maulorico gained possession of a long pass and kicked the ball just inside the left post for his second goal.
Sixteen seconds later, Gobea delivered his second score past Alceste to tie the match at 3.
“We took the lead 3-2, when they scored seconds later," Land O’ Lakes coach William Lassiter said. “So it was like a little mental breakdown. But even from that point, we kept fighting.
“It’s been a remarkable season in my first year as head coach. It’s wonderful to have a great set of kids, students that not only excel on the field, but off the field. It’s good character, and this team never gives up.
“It’s been a long time — almost a decade (since the school’s last region semifinal win) — but Gator soccer is back.”
Games at 7 p.m. Wednesday unless noted.
7A: No. 7 Lakewood Ranch at No. 4 Steinbrenner
6A: No. 2 Mitchell at No. 1 Palmetto
5A: No. 5 Naples Lely at No. 2 Seminole
5A: No. 2 Lake Gibson at No. 1 Jesuit
4A: No. 7 Nature Coast at No. 1 Cape Coral Mariner
3A: No. 7 Windermere Prep at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
2A: No. 3 Community School of Naples at No. 1 Shorecrest
2A: No. 5 Stuart Pine at No. 3 Carrollwood Day