LAKEWOOD RANCH — Alex Latham and the rest of the Lakewood Ranch High defense have posted 14 shutouts this season.
For 28 halves, or 1,120 minutes, this season, the junior goalkeeper has fought off every corner kick, header and shot that’s come her way. She’s recorded 67 saves, having only allowed 12 goals in 23 games.
But Latham’s most impressive performance this season came Jan. 26, in the second half of the Lady Mustangs Class 4A-Region 3 semifinal match versus Venice.
Holding onto a 1-0 lead, Venice stepped up its pressure down the stretch. Latham knew it was coming. But, rather than letting the stress get to her, Latham focused on her task — guarding the net and preserving the victory for the Lady Mustangs.
“It’s always good to be involved in the game,” says Latham, who had three saves. “The other teams always push it the last two minutes, and it’s really stressful back there.”
After defeating Cape Coral Ida Baker 4-1 in the regional semifinals Jan. 23, the Lady Mustangs prepared to face Venice for the fourth time this season; they defeated the Lady Indians twice, including a 3-0 victory in the district championship, and tied them once, as well.
“In the last practices we had, we were saying that we were playing Venice and we had never played them before. You have to look at it that way because we knew they were going to come after us,” says coach Guy Virgilio.
Lakewood took control in the 14th minute when junior forward Delaney Riggins scored the lone goal of the match off a cross from Tyler Gordon.
Riggins, who sat out the entire regular season with torn ligaments in her ankle, returned for the postseason and is making her presence known.
“It’s good to be back,” says Riggins, who also scored one goal against Venice in the district championship.
Venice stepped up its pressure down the stretch, particularly in the final five minutes, sending another forward into the attack. The Lady Mustangs countered, dropping a midfielder back and playing with only one forward.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy of a game as it was the last time,” Virgilio says. “These girls were going to come after it, but our defense did a fantastic job.”
Once again, wing fullbacks Tatum Young and Hannah Miller, sweeper Juliana Guida and stopper Amanda Baar cleared the outside and controlled the middle to help keep some of the pressure off Latham.
“I think everyone is so solid,” Latham says. “They are all individually solid, so as a team we can hold really well. We have two younger fullbacks, and they really pulled through for us.”
With the win, Lakewood traveled to Plant City to face the District 9 champion Lady Raiders in the Region 3 finals Jan. 29.
It was the third regional final for Lakewood and its first since 2010 when the Lady Mustangs reached the Final 4.
The winner will advance to the Final 4 Feb. 1.
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Food and fun
The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and its Young Leaders Alliance have something to talk about: the organizations collected 764 pounds of nonperishable food and $1,295 cash to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee/Meals on Wheels PLUS.
River Club’s Cheryl Kaufman says she’s still pinching herself.
A little “Ho! Ho! Ho!” can go a long way this holiday season.