By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002
TAMPA -- How typical of Palm Harbor University, a team without a star, that in the first 12 minutes of Saturday's game at Pepin/Rood Stadium, Mike Samson, Jens Alnervik, Brian McGarrigle, Chris Belmont and Craig Oakley missed chances to score.
The relentless and balanced attack -- coming from a gaggle of players at a myriad of different angles -- finally netted a goal 16 minutes in, then another 13 minutes later, as the Hurricanes rode a masterful opening half to a 2-1 victory over Hollywood Hills and the program's first title.
PHU (24-1-3) got goals from Samson and James Erigo -- both on assists from Belmont -- then withstood a furious Spartans rally in a chilling second-half rain to cap a perfect run in its first state playoff appearance. "I've been saying the same thing all year, and Muhammad Ali said it: You have to have skill to win and the will to win," Samson said. "But the will has to be greater than the skill."
The Hurricanes showed an ample amount of both, playing on a soaked field and in temperatures more suited for pants, and outperforming the same team that knocked off the state's No. 1 squad in the semifinals.
It looked like a mismatch thanks to a first half that kept Hollywood Hills pinned back on defense.
After a series of missed scoring opportunities, Palm Harbor finally put one in. Belmont's curling corner kick glanced off a teammate's head to the foot of Samson, who volleyed it past keeper Anthony Romano for a 1-0 lead.
Relying solely on long balls to fuel their counter attack, the Spartans (19-5-1) nearly answered the PHU goal. With Hurricanes keeper Matt Peterson well out of the net trying to chase a loose ball, a shot appeared headed for the back of a wide-open goal until McGarrigle swooped in and cleared it off the line.
Five minutes later, Belmont's free kick skipped off Samson's back (he was trying to top flick it on net) and went right to Erigo, who smashed a short shot through for a 2-0 lead.
"We really worked the ball well the first half," coach Juan Pablo Pinzon said. "We had some good possessions, and they had a hard time dealing with that.
"The second half, they were able to put more pressure on us."
And score, in the 57th minute, getting Kent Baggetto's wide-open goal after the Hurricanes' defense had one of its few lapses and failed to clear some loose balls out of the box.
That seemed to awaken PHU, which bottled up the Hollywood Hills attack the rest of the way and survived a pair of 20-yard free kicks that sailed wide and high, respectively.
"We said at the beginning of the year that we wanted to be state champs, and today we did it," Samson said.