The Jesuit High boys soccer team not only managed to keep its season alive Tuesday night, it got a bit of redemption in the process.
One year after watching their season end with a state playoff loss in penalty kicks, the Tigers secured the program's first trip to the state semifinals since 2008 by outlasting visiting Immokalee, 3-2, in penalty kicks in a Class 3A-Region 3 final.
"It's just very emotional. It's something I always wanted to do, and it really was a joy to do that, especially to get this far. It's always been a dream on mine," said senior Chris Conlon, who buried the decisive penalty kick for the Tigers, which touched off a massive celebration between the team and a boisterous group of supporters at Corral Memorial Stadium.
Jesuit's Brett Durrance opened the scoring, jumping on a Conlon pass to put the Tigers up, 1-0, in the 20th minute. Six minutes later, the Indians got the equalizer from Eduardo Soto. It stayed 1-1 from there, including through two 10 minute overtime sessions, mostly due to some key saves from Indians goalkeeper Jose Guzman.
Immokalee missed its first three penalty kick attempts, but Guzman denied Durrance in the fourth round on Jesuit's first attempt to win. After the Indians pulled even at 2, Conlon stepped up and calmly buried his fifth-round chance, one Jesuit coach Bob Bauman initially thought his team needed just to pull even.
"Penalty kicks aren't fair for either team. … We worked on penalty kicks all year and we came through," Bauman said. "(Immokalee) played well. They had some nice defensive positioning for us, kind of frustrated us. We had our chance to put it away and we didn't. We weren't at the same level we were Friday night, which is a little bit disappointing. ... Fortunately we prevailed on penalty kicks tonight."
4A-2: Bukh's goals lift Gaither
A pair of second-half goals by Jonas Bukh goals pushed the Cowboys to a 2-1 win on the road against Kissimmee Osceola and into the Class 4A state final four for the second straight season.
"We definitely got off to a sluggish start in the first half," Gaither coach Eric Sims said. "But in the second half we completely took over, we just completely dominated them."
After watching three solid chances in the first half get gobbled up by the opposing keeper, Sims said his team was due for a little good luck. That luck came early in the second half with the Cowboys trailing, 1-0. Cesar Ticora dumped a ball into the box and Bukh finished to even the match.
Gaither (20-4-1) continued to pressure with a chance off the cross bar before forward Jhonathan DaSilva found Bukh just outside the 18-yard box. The senior split two Osceola defenders and buried a shot near post for the decider.
The Cowboys were a 5A state final four team last season, but lost eight starters from that team. Sims said early on he wasn't convinced the final four was a possibility, however his team came together midway through the year and really clicked.
"If you'd have asked me before the season, I'd have said, 'no this wasn't a final four team,'" Sims said. "But about halfway through the year everything started to come together and these guys really wanted to make it work. That convinced me we had a good shot."
3A-2: Land O' Lakes rolls
It may have taken all season, but Land O' Lakes found itself at the right time. Just ask its 15th-year coach Mark Pearson, who, with a 5-0 win at Gainesville Eastside in the Class 3A-Region 2 final, is taking his Gators to the state semifinals Friday.
It will be the Gators first state semifinal appearance since 2000.
"We probably didn't know who we were as a team before the winter break," said Pearson, who is making his third state semifinal appearance as a coach. "Players were tired between that and club teams, so ever since getting that rest, we've been playing so well."
That includes the region final, as the Gators (22-3-2) rolled early on against the Rams (19-6-2), scoring in the 4th minute on an Andy Garcia goal that was assisted by Miguel Laliberte. Garcia added his second of the game and 26th of the season in the 10th minute.
Leading goal scorer Josh Davis then added his 30th and 31st goals of the season, while Pat Lawson added a late score.
Land O' Lakes was more than in control throughout the game, outshooting Eastside, 16-5, while keeper Mitch McCuen had two saves for his 10th shutout this season. The Gators have been dominating their games in the tournament, putting up 14 goals in three postseason matches.
"We know what we're capable of," Garcia said. "We've always gone out early in this tournament, so we're here to re-write history and change what happens."
1A-2: Tampa Prep holds off Fort Meade
Tampa Prep coasted quickly to a three-goal lead at Fort Meade in the Class 1A-Region 2 final and then held on for a 3-2 victory to advance to the state semifinals.
Tampa Prep coach Doug Smith said some sloppy late in the second half almost proved disastrous.
Three different Terrapins (17-4-1) came through with goals as defender Macsen Pritchard and team-leading scorer Jordan Hayes sent in first-half goals and Michael Spezza notched the eventual decider early in the second half.
Trailing, 3-0, Fort Meade converted on two second-half penalty kicks, but the Terrapins were able to limit any further mistakes.
Five seasons ago, the Terrapins won a 2A state championship with four players who who held Division-I college soccer offers. This year, the Terps are without a player with D-I offer, but have a chemistry that has Smith confident.
"The last time we won a state championship we had these stars," Smith said. "Now we have no D-I commits, but we are that kind of grind it out team that is committed to each other and it's paying off."
2A-3: Berkeley Prep match postponed
Due to threatening weather on Florida's East Coast, Berkeley Prep's Class 2A-Region 3 final against host West Palm Beach King's Academy was rescheduled to tonight at 6, Buccaneers coach Tim Cooper said.
As a result, Cooper said Berkeley Prep athletic director Bobby Reinhart requested and received approval from the Florida High School Athletics Association for a Saturday night semifinal hosted by the Bucs should they win against King's Academy.