TAMPA — Jesuit had already exceeded expectations by advancing to the region final for the fifth straight season. The Tigers bid farewell to 13 seniors who helped them finish No. 4 in the state and No. 21 in the nation in the final MaxPreps rankings last season.
Because his team was replacing so much and introducing so many new faces, Jesuit coach Eric Sims did not know if the run could continue with a second straight trip to the state semifinals.
“If you would have asked me a year ago if this team would be here, I would have said no way just with everything that we lost,” Sims said. “But this team is resilient.”
The nerves felt by the newcomers were not much of a derailment. Thanks to a stellar second half Wednesday night, the Tigers cruised to a 5-0 victory over Lake Gibson to make the state semifinals for the third time in the past seasons.
Midway through the first half, Jesuit took the lead for good with a goal by freshman Kai Rodrigues. The defense made it stick by clamping down on the Braves’ top two playmakers, Mason Dalton and Armando Maldonado.
The stifling play was in contrast to the last two playoff games in which the Tigers (22-3-2) allowed a combined six goals.
In the second half, Jesuit’s offense exploded. Senior Alexander Skantze scored twice. Rodrigues added another. And senior Zach Board rounded out the scoring.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Rodrigues. “There were a lot of nerves. There was some shaking in the locker room. But once I got settled in and got the first goal, I knew it was going to be a good night.
“This is definitely a fun experience, especially with all the young talent that we have. It looks good for years to come.”
State boys soccer semifinals
Games at 7 p.m. Saturday.
6A: No. 2 Mitchell at No. 1 Niceville
5A: No. 4 Jacksonville Stanton at No. 1 Jesuit
3A: No. 1 Jacksonville Bolles at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
2A: No. 5 Doral Divine Savior Academy at No. 1