Boys soccer: A fight for second

In Class 5A-7, River Ridge and Central have started well but still trail Land O'Lakes.

Published December 7, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - After classes let out Thursday, River Ridge boys soccer coach Mike McHugh placed a phone call to Central counterpart Hank Deslaurier.

Their teams were tied for second in Class 5A, District 7, but the topic concerned the No. 1 team in the district, Land O'Lakes: namely, the last time either team had beaten the Gators.

"The best either one of us could come up with is four or five years ago," McHugh said.

Approaching the midway point of the season, both coaches hope they are finally fielding teams capable of ending that losing streak. Central and River Ridge are 2-1-1 in Class 5A, District 7, making it all but certain they will enter the district tournament as the second and third seeds. That would mean one is headed to the playoffs for the first time in at least five years: Central hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2002, and River Ridge hasn't been there since 2000.

"The past few years we've had more all-stars," said junior stopper/midfielder Nick Hernandez, "but this year we have a better team."

The emergence of players such as Hernandez, who has split time between offense and defense, has been key to the Bears' revival. Last season, Central finished 10-8-3, losing in the first round of the district tournament to Wesley Chapel. Despite the loss of several seniors, including leading scorer Jacob Grey, Central has a young, tough squad whose 4-1 loss to Land O'Lakes on Wednesday night was its first in the district this season. Grey, who leads the team with 10 goals and three assists, scored the only goal in the loss.

Meanwhile, River Ridge played the Gators tough this season, trailing 1-0 most of the match before allowing another goal in the final five minutes.

Senior captain Eric Karcinski, who has split time between keeper and midfield, said River Ridge proved it could compete for a district title in the match.

"I played on the field that game. I missed one I should have scored," he said. "It's not like it wasn't close. If we focus on winning our district games, hopefully we can get in a good spot for the district tournament."

Central and River Ridge play again in January. And, if things go according to plan, they'll meet again in the district semifinals.

Said McHugh: "We're probably going to knock the snot out of each other for the next two games."

David Murphy can be reached at (352) 848-1407 or dmurphy@sptimes.com.