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By JEREMY RASMUSSEN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
TAMPA -- In the past two seasons, Gaither has found every conceivable way to win. Saturday, it ran out of miracles.
The Class 4A state final between Gaither and Orange Park was an even matchup on the field, ending 0-0 after regulation and four overtimes. But the Raiders pulled out the victory with a 4-3 edge in penalty kicks.
Gaither (24-4-1) fell short of its bid to become the first public school since Daytona Beach Seabreeze in 1992-93 to repeat one year after it defeated Orange Park 1-0 in the state semifinals.
In the shootout, the Raiders converted on all four of their shots and goalie Chris Goralczyk stopped a shot by Gaither's Travis Bourguinon. Brenden Crampton's last shot sailed high.
"I feel bad for the kids," Gaither coach Adrian Bush said. "They worked so hard for this. We practice PK's every day. Really, though, in a game like this, it's just a crapshoot. That's life. There has to be one winner."
Orange Park (25-2-2) nearly took a lead in the eighth minute when Richard Blackburn got free on the right side of the box. But his shot hit the side of the net.
Throughout the first half, Gaither's Bryce Wegerle jousted with Raider defender Clay Wright. After one play, in which Wright blocked Wegerle's back heel pass attempt, the two jawed ferociously. In the second half, the Raiders were equally effective at marking Wegerle with Chris Zepp.
Orange Park threatened to score again a minute after halftime when Brian Blackburn controlled a free kick from his brother, Richard, and blasted a point-blank shot. It hit the crossbar, however, and Gaither goalie Jared Swindle was able to deflect Richard Blackburn's follow.
Moments later, Wegerle crossed to Jared Rose in the middle, but his header was scooped up by Goralczyk.
In the first overtime, the Raiders tripped Wegerle at the top of the box. His curving free kick around the wall sailed just wide. A minute later, Raider forward Chris Meekins missed a wide-open chance in front of the Gaither net.
During sudden-death, Crampton's shot from the top of the box was turned away by Goralczyk. Goralczyk and the Raiders gave up just seven goals in 29 games this season.
"Their defense won the title for them," Bush said. "They were very solid. But I don't feel we came out and played. We waited for something to happen instead of making it happen ourselves.
Bush, though, said he was proud of the seniors, who reached three consecutive state tournaments.
"They've accomplished a lot," he said. "I love all these kids. Our memories together are irreplaceable.
"I wouldn't trade that for winning the lottery."