Hat trick lifts Cowboys

Brendan Howard led Gaither past his former team 3-2.

Published January 24, 2008

CLEARWATER - Brendan Howard waited four years to reach a district championship game, and thanks to three of his own goals Wednesday night, he's finally getting the chance.

Howard played two years with Sickles and last year with Gaither, but never got past the semifinals. Wednesday night he collected his second three-goal game of the season as Howard led Gaither (18-2-3) past his former team 3-2.

"That was probably as hard as I've worked all season," Howard said. "I had just one other (hat trick), but this was probably the best."

The Cowboys led 2-0 past the halfway point of the second half when the Gryphons (10-8-5) used a 45-yard kick from Josh Bissen and a 35-yard kick from David Piazza - less than four minutes apart - to tie the score at 2.

"They were just unbelievable shots," said Gaither coach Eric Sims, who still had his team playing aggressively with a two-goal advantage. "Play more defensive? I don't think it would have stopped their two goals. It's not my style."

The tie didn't last long. Two minutes after, Howard knocked in his 15th goal of the season for the winner. "As soon as they scored, I just wanted to get that last one back," Howard said.

Gaither, the No. 2 seed, will meet Alonso, the No. 1 seed, in Friday's Class 6A-7 championship game. Alonso (26-2) was a 3-1 winner over host Countryside.

Tom Turke put the Ravens in front 1-0 and Jagger Martinez tied the game for the Cougars (9-7-5). Shomari Elliot gave Alonso the lead before the first half ended. Julio Perez added an insurance goal in the second half.

Class 6A, District 8

PLANT CITY - Plant City's offensive philosophy relies heavily on counterattacks featuring the Raiders' talented striker pair. And for much of Wednesday's semifinal against defending district champ Sarasota, the Raiders struggled to find their comfort level. That all changed in a matter of seconds.

No. 1 Plant City scored a pair of second-half goals, defeating Sarasota 2-1 to reach the district final Friday against Sarasota Riverview, a 3-2 winner over Durant.

"Counterattacks are our strength," Plant City coach KC Van Der Luit said. "Our two guys up top have been playing club ball together for seven years, so they know where the other is going to be."

Van der Luit was referring to his senior combination of Jonathan Dupree and Stevie Lamas, but it was sophomore Freddie Quijandran who topped off the winning strike. Tied at 1 in the 71st minute, Lamas sent a long ball from the midfield that Dupree ran under near the right edge of the box. Dupree arrived at the same time as the defender, but managed to tap the ball to a trailing Quijandran, who banged home the winner.

"I told them at halftime that (Sarasota) had more intensity in the first half," Van Der Luit said. "But I also said if we outworked them in the second half, we would win."

Sarasota took a 1-0 lead in the first five minutes, but Plant City's (13-2-3) Andres Medina knocked in a Brian Fekete rebound to tie it in the 53rd minute. Raiders keeper Alex De Lagarza recorded seven saves, including a pair of diving stops in the first half, but none bigger than a one-on-one just before Quijandran's goal.

Durant (11-6-1) saw its season come to an end. The Cougars were called for a foul in the penalty box during extra time and Sarasota Riverview converted the PK to tie it at 2. The Rams then got the winner during the second overtime.

Brandon Wright, Times correspondent