PALMETTO — The Lakewood Ranch High boys soccer team is moving on.
For the second-consecutive season, the Mustangs are heading into the Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinals as the district runner-up — although it’s not quite how Lakewood envisioned entering this year’s regional tournament when the season began.
But after a disappointing 4-0 loss to Palmetto in the Class 4A-District 10 championship Jan. 29, the Mustangs are content knowing they’ve got another game to play. Lakewood will travel to Tampa Jesuit to face the District 9 champion Tigers at 7 p.m.
“I told the guys, ‘This is not the last game of the year,’” Lakewood coach Vito Bavaro said after the district championship. “It’s the first game of the regional tournament. Now, we need to win the first game of the regional tournament and then play these guys (Palmetto) again.”
After defeating Palmetto 1-0 back in mid-December, Lakewood had high hopes entering last Friday’s district championship. And for the first 15 minutes of regulation, the Mustangs controlled the game, attempting six shots compared to the Tigers’ four.
But in the 17th minute, Palmetto’s Pedro Calvillo sent a header past Lakewood goalie Daniel Murray off an assist from Edgar Campos, giving Palmetto a 1-0 lead.
That first goal proved to be the difference in the game. Not only did it spark the Tigers, but also it forced the Mustangs to deviate from their typical style of play.
“When we play our kind of game and control the game we are in every game,” Bavaro said. “The fact that they went up early put us back on our heels. That was troubling for us. We needed to score goals and we had to do whatever we could to score goals.”
Palmetto extended its lead in the 50th minute when Brandon Waddy fired an uncontested shot into the back of the net. At that point, Bavaro moved his defenders up to help generate some offense.
The move left the backfield wide open, on which Palmetto eventually capitalized twice in the second half.
“At that point, 1-0 or 2-0, we needed to get a goal,” Bavaro said. “I wasn’t concerned about what the final outcome of the score was so much as I was us generating offense, which we just couldn’t do.
“We played well,” he added. “They scored a beautiful header. They took it to us from that point, and we just had to go at them. And if all else failed, we had to give up a few goals then we had to give them up. It’s dangerous, but we had to score goals.”
With the win, the top-seeded Tigers earned their second-consecutive district title, having defeated Braden River 2-0 in the semifinals Jan. 27. However, similar to the district championship, the Tigers struggled early on against the Pirates.
The two teams remained scoreless throughout the first 67 minutes of regulation. It wasn’t until Palmetto’s Guillermo Galvan’s header bounced past Braden River goalkeeper Andy Quijano with 13 minutes left in the game that the Tigers took control of the game.
Palmetto added its second goal in the 71st minute, which clinched the win for the Tigers. It was the third time this season the Pirates had fallen short of defeating the Tigers. But with each game Braden River coach Janjay Gehndyu saw marked improvement in his players — something he said he hopes to build upon next season.
“We thought we had them and I’m quite sure they thought we had them too,” Gehndyu said. “It happened the way it was suppose to happen. They’re by far the hardest team in our district and you have to commend them for everything that they’ve done. They’ve made us better, so we really appreciate playing them.
“We started off rough,” he added. “We had a three-game losing streak. They just snapped our five-game winning streak, so we’ve done a lot from the beginning until the end. The guys that we have coming back next year, we’re looking to build off of that, and hopefully, we’ll have another run and try to win it all next year.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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