They won titles in youth leagues. And they end their prep careers with a state championship.
By ALEX LYNCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
TAMPA -- What better way to end your senior season than winning the state championship. For the Tornado seniors, it came true.
Except for Peter Merkle, who broke his leg last week during practice and could not contribute.
At least physically.
"That hurt us bad," senior Tom Gluski said. "He was really coming around and playing valuable minutes, hustling. We had to come out here and play without him. But we played our hearts out remembering him."
Although Merkle couldn't play, he was just as happy as if he were the one who scored the winning goal.
"I was just as much a part of the team whether I played or not," he said "I guess me breaking my leg was a motivation for (the players), but I think everyone contributed equally. This team has a lot of heart." Memories were made Saturday, memories of relationships that had grown from under-11 teams (in which they won a championship) to the club teams the seniors play on together in the summer, all the way to the climax at Pepin/Rood stadium.
"We owe it to the whole team," senior John Schraeder said. "This is the way to go out."
Flagler Palm Coast kept the pressure on Clearwater throughout the game, but Clearwater goalkeeper Brian Roe did his best impression of a wall, stopping 10 shots as the Tornadoes were outshot 28-8 by the defending state champions.
"Excellent, just excellent," senior Travis Gero said of Roe.
"He came up with big saves and saved our butts a couple of times. If it wasn't for him, we might have lost this game."
For a group of seniors who have played together all of their lives, this was the pinnacle of a long road that began long ago. "The reason I do this is for the seniors," Clearwater coach Bruce Toscani said.
"They have worked real hard for this, and to see them go out this way is why you do it."