Cowboys, Ravens fall from contention

Gaither loses a two-goal lead to Countryside while Alonso is shut out.

By CHRIS GIRANDOLA Times Correspondent
Published January 18, 2007

CLEARWATER - The ball hung in the air for what seemed like hours.

In fact, it had taken an entire 80 minutes of regulation time and nearly all of the extra 20 minutes to get to this point.

Countryside, the heavily favored host, had managed to tie the game with fifth-seeded Gaither after being down two goals.

With only 20 seconds left in overtime, Sami Striano blasted a direct kick from 10 yards outside the penalty box, only to have a strong breeze keep the ball drifting through the air, delaying the inevitable.

"It just seemed like it was going to stay there or the wind would sail it up and out of bounds," said Striano, who earlier tied the game with a penalty kick in the 60th minute.

But it didn't, as the gush of air actually helped.

The ball drifted over the wall of Gaither defenders and past Cowboys senior keeper Denise Campbell, who had positioned herself for a save. Someone, landed in the back of the net, giving the Cougars a 3-2 win and a trip to the district finals.

"It was an amazing, amazing feeling," said Striano. "It just stopped. And boom, I saw it hit the net. Wow, it can't get any better than that."

Forward Shanna Pace's two goals midway through the second half gave Gaither (6-7-3) what seemed to be a comfortable lead.

But Hana Kaba assisted on Jeannel Huffman's goal to bring Countryside to within one, and then Striano delivered the unlikely game winner.

Countryside (13-4-2) will face St. Petersburg in the finals. The Green Devils beat Alonso 4-0 in the other semifinal behind a hat trick by junior forward Andrea Rodrigues.