LAKEWOOD RANCH — Early on, Lakewood Ranch High girls soccer coach Guy Virgilio had some reservations about midfielder Kaitlyn Kerrigan.
Kerrigan was one of the last ones to make the team and had to continually work her way into the starting lineup.
But what a difference four years can make.
Now, Kerrigan is one of Lakewood’s undisputed leaders; and on a night when the Lady Mustangs needed an offensive spark, Virgilio had all the confidence in his senior co-captain.
And Kerrigan didn’t disappoint.
With the game on the line, Kerrigan converted her second penalty kick of the night, propelling the Lady Mustangs past Barron Collier 2-1 (PK, 4-3) in the Class 4A-Region 3 finals Feb. 6.
“We’ve worked so hard, especially the senior class,” Kerrigan said. “We have gotten to the regional semifinals every single year and we didn’t make it past that point, but this year we did.
“We just have this feeling that God is with us,” she added. “We want this, and He wants this for us. It’s just us playing together as a team. This is our chance. This is our year.”
Lakewood’s ecstatic fans rushed the field following the game-winning penalty kick to celebrate Kerrigan and the rest of the Lady Mustangs’ historic performance.
Lakewood will play St. Johns Bartram Trail at 7:15 p.m., Feb. 10, in the Class 4A semifinals at the University of Tampa’s Pepin Stadium. It will be the first time in school history Lakewood has played in the state semifinals.
“Wow, I don’t even know what to say,” Virgilio said. “It feels great. We made history. I can’t believe it. I never did expect it with this team. I’m really proud of them. They really came through and decided to play as a team.”
But the road to the state semifinals wasn’t easy for the Lady Mustangs. Lakewood faced its first true test of the season against George Steinbrenner in the Class 4A-Region 3 semifinals Feb. 2.
The Lady Mustangs got onto the scoreboard first when midfielder Kaitlyn Wolfe scored in the 16th minute. Lakewood further extended its lead in the 30th minute when forward Sarah Miller’s header found the back of the net.
Steinbrenner responded in the 32nd minute, but the Lady Mustangs held the Lady Warriors to just three shots in the second half to preserve the 2-1 win.
Lakewood goalkeeper Katherine Somodi recorded five saves on the night, marking the first time she had truly been tested all season.
Lakewood advanced to the regional finals for the first time since 2006; and after having their game postponed for a day due to inclement weather; the Lady Mustangs were ready to try and make history.
After a scoreless first half, the Lady Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute. The Lady Mustangs responded in stoppage time when Miller drew a penalty kick. Kerrigan took the kick and found the left corner of the netm sending the game into extra periods.
“The whole weight of the world was on my shoulders because I could tie this game,” Kerrigan said.
After two 10-minute extra periods, the Lakewood’s season came down to five penalty kicks. Aubrey Riggins, Deana Haller, Kristin Hagaman and Kerrigan were each successful in their attempts to secure the victory for the Lady Mustangs.
“This is surreal, especially it (being) our senior year and going undefeated,” Hagaman said. “It’s just been a crazy year for us, and I definitely think we can go all the way.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].