Boys soccer: Plant City just fine with underdog status

By BRANDON WRIGHT, Times Correspondent
Published January 31, 2008

PLANT CITY - Logic suggests Plant City would be the favorite heading into tonight's Class 6A region quarterfinal against Alonso. After all, the Raiders claimed the district championship Friday, hold a 14-2-3 record and are hosting the Ravens.

Not so, according to the Raiders.

"We're the underdogs, no question about it," Plant City coach KC Van Der Luit said. "We will have our work cut out for us."

Is that just coach-speak to fire up the team? If it is, striker Stevie Lamas has bought in.

"Absolutely we're the underdogs," Lamas said. "Alonso is a really strong team. There's no room for mistakes."

And if the Raiders are to go through, Lamas and fellow forward Jonathan Dupree likely will play a large part. The duo, Plant City's top two finishers, has a connection that goes back seven years in club soccer.

"Our chemistry is so good, we just know where the other is always going to be," Lamas said. "He'll know to flick on a ball or I'll know which run he's making. I'd say he assisted on at least half my goals this year."

The pair's connection was on display in the first half in the Raiders' district-clinching win Friday against Sarasota Riverview when Dupree assisted on two of Lamas' three goals.

"Having played together in club for as long as they have," Van Der Luit said, "is immeasurable in terms of chemistry."

Plant City beat Alonso in penalty kicks to win the Wharton Preseason Invitational, but that was almost three months ago. The Ravens reached the state semis last year and brought nearly everyone back, have arguably the most dangerous player in the county up top in Julio Perez and a sturdy backline that will test Plant City's counterattacking style.

"We beat them in the preseason, but Alonso was the better team that night," Van der Luit said. "We'll have to play our best game of the season to go through."

Boys soccer region quarterfinals

All games tonight at 7.

6A: Sarasota Riverview (10-5-5) at Gaither (19-2-3)

Gaither gets a strong Sarasota Riverview team in the opening round after the Cowboys knocked off Alonso 3-2 in the district final. Brendan Howard dictates the Cowboys' offense but Darnell King is the finisher, recording 23 goals this year.

5A: Freedom (17-4) at Land O'Lakes (24-1-1)

Losing to Wharton in the district final stung, but not as much as the realization that the loss meant a first-round matchup with powerhouse Land O'Lakes. The Gators are ranked No. 9 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.

5A: River Ridge (8-10-3) at Wharton (13-5-2)

The Wildcats finished strong, winning six of their past seven, including Friday's district championship 2-1 over Freedom. Wharton's balanced offense, led by Joe Layton, features three scorers in double digits.

5A: Plant (8-5-3) at East Lake (11-1-2)

The Eagles knocked off Palm Harbor University for the district title last week and avoided a first-round matchup with Jesuit. East Lake has several scoring options and should advance with ease.

5A: Palm Harbor U. (19-2-2) at Jesuit (24-2-0)

Yikes. Are these teams really meeting in the first round? The Tigers jumped up a class this year and now have the Hurricanes to open the postseason. Expect a tough, physical match.

3A: Dunbar (4-16-3) at Berkeley Prep (15-5-1)

The Bucs haven't lost since Jan. 4, including a huge win against Tampa Prep at the Headmasters Challenge, and took apart Tampa Catholic 6-1 in the district final.

3A: Tampa Catholic (11-8-1) at Bishop Verot (20-4-1)

The Crusaders won six of their first seven matches, then knocked off nationally ranked Land O'Lakes before sputtering through the middle of their schedule. Bishop Verot is good, but the Crusaders are better than their record indicates.

2A: Academy at the Lakes (3-12-1) at Tampa Prep (22-2-2)

No coach worth his salt will look past an opponent, and Tampa Prep's Jose DaCosta is one of the best. But we can. The Terrapins will roll and should get a tough Calvary Christian team next week in the region semis.

Brandon Wright, Times correspondent