By BRANT JAMES, KEITH NIEBUHR and STEVE LEE
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2002
SPRING HILL -- Springstead didn't have much left. Not after capturing the District 7 title as the fifth seed, winning its play-in game in overtime, and winning a semifinal and the final on penalty kicks.
So facing strong District 8 runner-up Winter Haven on Tuesday didn't leave much hope. The Blue Devils controlled play with a smothering defense and scored once in each half for a 2-0 victory to oust Springstead. A pregame pep talk from Springstead alum Jennifer O'Sullivan, a member of the New York Power, appeared to boost the Eagles, but their energy waned once the game began.
Springstead, which finished 11-9 after an 8-8 regular season, was a step off most of the night and Winter Haven (14-7-3) took advantage with constant pressure.
Even Eagles goaltender Stefanie Hibbert, a stalwart in the two district shootouts, was a bit off, suffering, coach Randy Strat said, from tonsilitis.
Midfielder Katie Kopp gave Winter Haven a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute when her shot from the box rolled off Hibbert's mitts, over the keeper's head and into the goal.
"We had a lot of tired girls out there," Strat said. "(After) three big games like that, you could see we were just physically tired. We didn't play poorly, but you could see it all night, and we had some breakdowns."
Springstead's intensity picked up in the second half, but the results were the same. Four of the Eagles' six shots came in the final 40 minutes, and they missed their best scoring chance with eight minutes left when Joi McKenzie broke open and fired wide of the goal.
Winter Haven had 24 shots, forcing Hibbert to make 10 saves. The Devils' Amber White made two.
"They actually got the ball in our end a lot, but the whole defense stepped up," Winter Haven coach Scott Short said.
Winter Haven sealed the win in the final five minutes when midfielder Debbie Arias dribbled by several Eagles, faked Hibbert to the ground and hit an open net.
LECANTO -- Even though River Ridge freshman forward Kim Nagy took just "one or two" shots during the regular season, she knew exactly what to do when it counted.
With her team locked in a tie against Lecanto, Nagy found the ball in a crowd and scooted it past Panthers keeper Trisha Chenoweth in the 71st minute. The first goal of Nagy's career proved to be the winner as the Royal Knights held on for a 2-1 victory.
"There were a whole bunch of players from (Lecanto) around the ball and I was the only one from my team around it, so I kicked it," Nagy said. "It feels great. I was so excited when I scored that I couldn't hold it in."
Before Nagy's goal, it was anybody's guess who would win.
River Ridge (12-3-5) outshot Lecanto 13-7, but the Panthers played neck-and-neck with the Knights in every other aspect.
"Lecanto played really well," River Ridge keeper Kat Mazzella said. "They were a lot stronger than we expected."
The teams battled to a scoreless tie in the first half, combining for just seven shots. But in the final 40 minutes, both went on the attack.
Six minutes into the second half, Deanna Cerbini's goal gave River Ridge a 1-0 lead. Five minutes later, Lecanto (16-6-1) answered when forward Alicia Short slipped past a defender and blasted a shot past Mazzella.
"I thought the teams were fairly evenly matched," Knights coach Keith Hooper said. "But I thought we had better touches. I don't feel like we played our best, but we came out with the win."
Each team had several opportunities to take the lead, but neither could until Nagy scored.
"Her goal couldn't have come at a better time," Hooper said.
River Ridge then dropped several players into defensive positions to prevent Lecanto from scoring. The Panthers failed to find the net late, despite having a few legitimate chances.
"It's a tough way to go down," Panthers coach Kevin Towne said. "I thought we were as good as they were. We just had some missed opportunities. We just didn't clear it up front."
LAND O'LAKES -- The last time Land O'Lakes mounted a comeback, the game ended in a 2-2 tie with Cape Coral Mariner.
That was the halftime score Tuesday against Citrus, which led twice on goals by Amber Presnick.
The Gators (22-1-1) made sure this comeback ended in a victory with three goals in eight minutes during a second-half rally. Land O'Lakes' 5-2 win dashed the Hurricanes' bid for their fourth consecutive regional semifinal.
The Gators advance to next Tuesday's semifinal at Orlando Bishop Moore, which defeated Jacksonville Bartram Trail 5-0. "I don't think we played in the first half," Land O'Lakes coach Vicky King said. "We weren't communicating.
"We let Amber get to us. She has tremendous speed. She took it to us in the beginning."
Presnick's 23rd and 24th goals of the season were countered by Casie Poyssick's penalty kick and Stacy Bishop's blast from the right side, just inside the 18-yard box.
Citrus was coming off its first-ever loss to Lecanto. The Hurricanes went 16-0-2 against the Panthers before Friday's 2-1 loss. The Hurricanes kept it close until Land O'Lakes' three-goal outburst.
In the 54th minute, Poyssick was denied once on a header in the box before the Land O'Lakes forward headed in another attempt.
Bishop led Poyssick with a pass from the right side in the 59th minute and Poyssick beat goalkeeper Laura Woythaler for her 42nd goal of the season.
Bishop banked in a shot off a defender for her 51st goal in the 62nd minute.
"We could have put our heads down and collapsed," King said, adding that her players have "got a lot of heart. We want to win."
Land O'Lakes outshot Citrus 22-12 and the Hurricanes did not get many scoring chances in the second half thanks in part to the solid defensive play of Jessica Gagnon.
"(Gagnon) marked up real well in the second half," King said.