DELAND ― Tampa Catholic’s quest to win a first state championship fell short Thursday afternoon. The Crusaders lost 3-0 to Fort Lauderdale University in the Class 3A final at Stetson University’s Spec Martin Stadium.
The Sharks, ranked third in the state and sixth nationally by MaxPreps, won their second state title. Tampa Catholic, ranked fifth in the state and ninth nationally, finishes 23-2-2. This was only the second time the Crusaders have been shut out this season. The other was a 0-0 tie against Mitchell.
“That is a good soccer team," Tampa Catholic coach Kevin McCarron said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s also the best year we’ve ever had, hands down."
This was the second time the Crusaders had played in a state final. In 2016 they lost 3-2 to Ransom Everglades.
Things got off to a bad start Thursday for the Crusaders and didn’t get a whole lot better. In the third minute, the Sharks’ Ethan Subachan gathered a loose ball outside of University’s 18-yard box and began a full sprint down field. With Tampa Catholic defenders in tow, he got off a shot from 20 yards that was saved back into play by goalkeeper Charlie Gembarowski. Sebastian Baredes was in position to redirect the rebound into the open net for a quick 1-0 lead.
Tampa Catholic’s defense held off University for the rest of the half. There were also a few close calls. In the 14th minute, Jacob Spengler had a shot taken off the line by a University defender. A few minutes later, Tony Watson had a shot just sail wide. But the Crusaders couldn’t find the net and had to settle for a 1-0 deficit at halftime.
“We settled down after (the first goal),” McCarron said. “The last 12 or 15 minutes of the half we had balls flying left and right, and the keeper was all over the place. We could’ve gotten one. Make it 1-1 and it changes things. With that team, when things are going good, they are on top of the world. Get one on them, then things change."
University (21-0-2) didn’t let up in the second half. The Sharks scored in the 44th minute when Subachan got free in the box and launched a 15-yarder into the upper left corner. Soon after, Tampa Catholic had another setback.
Watson, the team leader with 31 goals, was called for a hard tackle and given a blue card, which means he had to leave the game with just over 30 minutes to play. It also meant that the Crusaders had to play a man down for the rest of the match.
In the 48th minute, University essentially put the game away. Joel Castellanos got a pass off of a free kick just outside the 18-yard box. His shot angled into the lower left corner of the goal to make it 3-0. University kept up the pressure for the rest of the half. While it didn’t score again, it also didn’t allow many chances for the Crusaders.
As the Tampa Catholic players accepted their runnerup medals, players wiped away tears and gave each other consoling hugs. The Crusaders will graduate seven seniors, but will have 16 players back next season. A return trip to the state final is possible.
Until then, McCarron said there is no shame in losing to a team as skilled as University.
“Their combinations all night were really nice," he said. “That’s a special soccer team. You don’t find that kind of quality on a high school soccer team."