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Pirates get chance at spotlight


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001

CRYSTAL RIVER -- For months now the Pirates have talked about respect and rankings. Now comes the opportunity to put up or shut up.

Crystal River has posted jaw-dropping numbers this season and has the best record in Class 2A, but has yet to turn heads outside of the region.

Though they had beaten teams ranked ahead of them for much of the season, the Pirates (18-1-2) didn't crack the Florida Athletic Coaches Association poll until the 11th week.

Expect that reputation to improve dramatically should Crystal River defeat third-ranked and defending state champion Orlando Bishop Moore in tonight's Class 2A, Region 2 semifinals, an opportunity that is nothing less than a chance of a lifetime.

"Right now, if we play our game, I believe we can play with anybody in 2A," said Pirates coach Dave Soluri, who won his first playoff game in 15 years in a 5-1 victory over Central on Thursday.

That was evident on Thursday, when the Pirates avenged their only loss of the season with a devastating attack and superbly organized defense.

This is not your typical Citrus County soccer team.

Crystal River can hit you from a number of directions, thrives on its overwhelming speed and deft passing and more often that not finishes its scoring chances.

Some evidence can be found in the numbers -- school-record 133 goals, 11 shutouts -- but the the real proof lies on the field, where the communication and coordination of the players has paid big dividends.

"I've never had a team that communicates this well and gets along off field as well as this one," Soluri said. "I think it's just their personality.

"They see a mistake and they know it's something that's not going to happen all the time. If they need support (on the ball), they know it will be there. And when somebody else needs support, they know what to do."

The catalysts for this are striker Donny Caldwell, do-everything midfielder Peter Manzoli (24 goals, 18 assists) and defensive stalwart Kyle Griffin.

Of those, Caldwell (50 goals, 26 assists, including a one-goal, three-assist effort against Central) is the one who tends to stand out, both for his sheer skill and his eye-popping numbers.

"He really can do anything he wants out there," Soluri said. "Where are you going to get a 5-9 kid that can dunk a basketball and jump high enough to take a header away from guys who are 6-3 and 6-4? There are local people who thought they knew him, but he's stepped up and surprised even them."

If Caldwell is the Ying in the Crystal River attack, Manzoli -- who just received an appointment to the United State Naval Academy -- is the Yang, the physical yet cerebral counter to Caldwell's pure athleticism.

"What can't you say about Peter?" Soluri said. "He's a workhorse. He puts everything he has into it and you can never count him out. He looks like he's getting beat, but he makes up for it and comes back and gets his guy.

"Last year, he was a totally defensive midfielder. This year we've asked him to step up into the offense and play defense and he's done both -- and better than expected."

Bishop Moore (23-4-3) is a changed team too, having lost nine seniors from its state championship team of a year ago.

However, the Hornets have not dropped off much and are still a threat thanks to the return of junior forward Frank Ambrosio (30 goals, 16 assists) and attacking outside midfielder Chris Mehan.

Those two were part of a team that returned the state championship to Bishop Moore after an 18-year hiatus and are the prime reasons the Hornets must be considered a contender to repeat.

"We had a bunch of juniors who were just sitting on the bench last year," said Hornets coach Mark Keymont, who won three state titles as a player for Bishop Moore (1979, '80, '82). "They didn't get many opportunities last year because we had so many seniors. But this year was their turn and they're doing a fine job.

"But we'll find out what we're made of this week and see if we are capable of returning to the final four."

Orlando Bishop Moore at Crystal River

WHEN: Tonight, 7.

RECORDS: Bishop Moore (23-4-3), Crystal River (18-1-2).

KEY PLAYERS: Bishop Moore -- Frank Ambrosio, F; Chris Mehan, MF; Mike Weller, D; Justin Cabral, M; Matt Rogers, D. Crystal River -- Donny Caldwell, F; Peter Manzoli, M; Dalan Eye, M; Brad Deitemeyer, D; Kyle Griffin, D, Kyle Nayfield, M.

QUOTABLE: "The big thing about (the 5-1 victory over Central) was that we proved to ourselves that we could. It wasn't a grudge thing. We just wanted to go out and show everybody that we can play like we did." -- Crystal River coach Dave Soluri on his team's first playoff win.

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