If one thing can be taken away from Tuesday night’s game, it’s that the Plant City girls soccer program is headed in the right direction.
Plant City (11-4-3) saw its season come to an end Jan. 29, with a 1-0 home loss to Lakewood Ranch in the Region 3 finals. The region finals appearance was a first for the Lady Raiders, after advancing to the semifinals a year ago.
“It was a great experience to get this far, and I’m very proud of the girls,” said first-year head coach Caleb Roberts. “It’s been a great season, and we were able to host this game and the fans were able to come out and support us and get behind us, so we can hold our heads high.”
Lakewood Ranch (19-1-4) controlled the tempo for the majority of the game, leading the way with its stingy defense, which has only allowed 12 goals all season.
The Lady Mustangs broke the scoreless tie in the 35th minute of the first half, when Angelica Rego scored off a deflected shot from Tatum Young. It was Rego’s 13th goal of the season.
“We started putting in two forwards and then went to three, and, finally in the final five minutes, as they would send somebody back to play defense, we would send someone up to play offense,” Roberts said about his team’s effort to pick up an elusive goal. “It was just a chess match all night.”
Plant City’s best chance came with five minutes left in the game, when the Lady Raiders had a corner kick that sailed just high of the cross in front of the net. The Lady Raiders managed only two shots on goal, while the Lady Mustangs tallied 10.
After beating East Bay in an overtime penalty shootout to win its second consecutive Class 4A District 9 title, Plant City picked up a 3-2 home win over Tarpon Springs in the region quarterfinals Jan. 23, followed by a 1-0 road win over Seminole Jan. 26 in the region semifinals.
That semifinal win came without the Lady Raiders’ leading scorer, junior Ericka Lott, who was competing in the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Pageant the same night. Lott finished the season with 24 goals and will return next year for a Plant City team that only loses three seniors — Nidia Castro, Kellee Brown and Nidia Gutierrez.
“We had a great season, and it was our best season thus far, so I’m not ashamed of it — even though we’re not satisfied with just getting this far,” Lott said. “It’s nothing to get mad about, but I do see us going further next year and getting better and playing more focused as a team.”
In addition to Lott, the Lady Raiders will return rising seniors Diana Corzine and Stephanie Galloway. They also will return goalkeeper Taylor Michael, a sophomore.
Defenseman Deanna Rodriguez and midfielder Kylee Burroughs also will return after starting as just freshmen.
“We’re taking one step at a time,” Roberts said about the program. “We made it one step further this year than we did last year, and we’ll be looking for at least one more game next year, which will put us in the state semis. We just have to keep moving in the right direction and keep building on the foundation that these girls have built these last three years.”
Contact Matt Mauney at firstname.lastname@example.org.