TAMPA - With just over 16 minutes remaining in his team's struggle with Gaither, East Bay's Amos Calixte dribbled to the endline and made a head-high cross.
Running onto the ball, just in front of the Gaither goal, was Jason Haynes, who launched himself head first toward the net, needing only to touch the ball to tie the game.
As was the case all night for the Indians, however, the timing was just off and the ball crossed harmlessly past the goal before Haynes could make contact. That lack of finishing ability, coupled with Gaither's speed at forward and midfield, was the leading factor in the Cowboys' 4-1 victory.
Gaither (16-6) travels to Mitchell Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game marking the third straight year the Cowboys have appeared in the region semifinals.
The Cowboys looked poised to blow past the Indians, scoring twice in the first 17 minutes. But East Bay, 9-6-1 and making somewhat of a surprise appearance in its first region game in seven years, fought back to cut the margin to one when Haynes tapped in a Jimmy Chapoteau lob next to the post.
"We were right back in it," East Bay coach Chad Hooper said. "That showed a lot of heart. It would have been real easy for these guys to put their heads down. But they kept fighting."
The Indians fought well in the second half but Gaither kept pressuring, firing off eight shots in the final 40 minutes. The one that counted was Eddie Ababio's conversion of a penalty kick with about eight minutes remaining to give Gaither a two-goal advantage.
Tony Barekat added the final goal with three minutes to play.
Wharton stymies Brandon
BRANDON - It didn't matter that Brandon had more shots than Wharton (19-12), or that many of Brandon's shots were of superior quality.
"It didn't matter because the bottom line is that if you don't put the ball in the back of the net, you don't win," Brandon coach Allen Ware said. "We've had a hard time scoring lately and tonight it caught up to us."
Hence the main reason Brandon (15-5-4), the defending state champion, lost 3-1 Thursday night.
The other reasons included some athletic stops by Wharton keeper Josh Harrah and a couple of pinpoint goals by Tyler DeStadio and Nick Zimmerman that put the Wildcats up 3-0 late in the second half.
"We really haven't played our best soccer through districts or tonight, but we have taken advantage of our opportunities," Wharton coach Mike Rowan said. "I also think Josh Harrah really was a key tonight."
Particularly in the 39th minute when Brandon, trailing 1-0, fired a shot just inside the crossbar only to have Harrah leap and tip the ball away.
"That was a very big save," Ware said. "If we score there then the whole game changes."
Wharton (13-3-3) now plays at Lakeland George Jenkins, a 3-2 winner over Land O'Lakes.
Wharton was without two of its starters Thursday. Clint Malatesta and Maclean Hall were sidelined with a strained MCL and a broken wrist respectively in Friday's district final against Gaither.