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Cobras battle No.1 Nease but fall short

CLASS 2A: Hudson loses 3-1, but not without putting up a fight and finishing as the best team in school history.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003

HUDSON -- For 57 minutes in Friday night's region final, Hudson went toe to toe and goal to goal with the top-ranked team in the state.

But in the last 23 minutes, St. Augustine Nease proved why it's No.1 in 2A.

Nease defeated Hudson 3-1 at Cobra Stadium to make its first trip to Thursday's state semifinals at Tampa's Ed Radice Sports Complex.

The Panthers broke a 1-1 deadlock in the 58th minute and poured it on as the Cobras were hit with four yellow cards in the final minutes of their remarkable season.

"We had plenty of chances," Hudson coach Ron Ladimir said. "We just couldn't get a shot off. Our ball was (almost) in their net enough times. I told the kids, 'Just a bounce here or a bounce there ..."'

The Cobras (21-7-1) tied a school record for victories, won their first Sunshine Athletic Conference title in 18 years and will go down as the best team in school history. No Hudson team has reached the region final in 29 seasons of trying.

"I think that they played as hard as any team we've ever played," Nease coach Randy Eckensberger said, "and not only did they play hard but they played to their strength and they did it very, very well.

"To be honest, we were having trouble getting adjusted to them. I told them at halftime that we're playing a second too slow. Not only with the ball, but off the ball."

Yet it was the Panthers who took a 1-0 lead three minutes into the contest off a direct kick by Blake Ringeisen. He caught the Cobras off-guard with his left foot while they were trying to set up their defense and wall. It was his fourth goal of the season on a quick kick.

"It's something that cannot happen," Ladimir said.

Hudson struck back, but with seconds to spare. Nease, called for a hand ball in the box, gave the Cobras' Tim Cook a penalty kick in front of the goal. Cook faked left, sending 6-foot-4 goalkeeper Kevin Gordon flying left while he delivered the ball dead center to tie it 1-1. Seconds later the first half ended.

Nease reversed its forwards, dropped a man into the midfield and put on a dribbling exhibition in the second half. In the 58th minute, Nathan Sturgis faked right to spin his defender, veered left, took the ball inside and nailed an unassisted goal that glanced off Hudson keeper Travis Miller to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.

In the 71st minute, Travis Wallace won a hard-earned possession on the right side and delivered the ball to David Reddick's strong left foot, and he planted the ball inside the bottom left corner of the net for the third goal.

Hudson took a flurry of shots in the closing minutes -- including a header by Alex Hayes, who tried to bicycle kick in his own rebound with 11 minutes left -- but none found the mark.

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