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TAMPA - The Class 5A, District 7 girls soccer tournament is unfolding according to expectations.
Top-seeded Sickles (18-1) and second seed Gaither (10-4) reached Friday's championship, a rematch of last year's contest, with semifinal wins Wednesday night.
Starting seven freshmen, host Sickles used speed and precision passing to overcome fourth-seeded Alonso 3-0.
The Gryphons took an early lead when forward Chelsea Wright took a rebound off the post on a shot by teammate Cathleen Bonk, redirecting it past Alonso goalkeeper Aine Feaser. Eleven minutes into the second half, freshman Sara Lockler made it 2-0 after she gathered a loose ball in front of the Ravens goal, slipping it through heavy traffic.
Feaser was peppered with 24 shots, giving up only two. She helped turn back three breakaway opportunities in the second half. Sickles' third goal, late in the game by Bonk, was on the Ravens' backup goalie.
Sickles keeper Melanie Raimo had nine saves in her 11th shutout of the season.
"I was a little leery going into districts with such a young team," Sickles coach George Arroyo said. "But in a way, it's turned out for the better because they don't seem to be rattled by the magnitude. They are just playing relaxed and having a good time."
The Cowboys had a rough time with Wharton in the other semifinal, needing a late goal by Jessica Mantler to edge the Wildcats 3-2.
Wharton went up by two early on goals by Jessica Wooden and Katie Whitten. Shortly after Whitten's goal, Gaither responded on a shot by Caitlyn Bliss off a corner kick.
The Cowboys tied it with less than a minute left in the first half when Bliss zeroed in a free kick toward Shanna Pace, who finished with a header.
The teams played to a stalemate in the second half until Mantler caught a rebound off the hands of the Wildcats goalie and put it back from 18 feet.
"We struggled early but it was good to equal it out before the half," Gaither coach Dianne Schroeder said. "We've typically done better in the second half all year. The girls have always been confident right to the last whistle."