Two backside River Ridge (New Port Richey) goals doomed the Gainesville boys soccer team in the 5A Region 2 finals game at Citizens Field on Wednesday.
With the game tied 1-1, the visiting seventh-seeded Royal Knights (16-4) scored with 3:17 left in the contest and then held off a flurry of Gainesville (15-1-2) shots on goal in the final minutes to win, 2-1.
“We just got a little undisciplined in the back and guys were trying to do too much instead of doing their job,” said Gainesville coach Basil Benjamin. “They scored the same way both times on the same side, so just have to coach better and understand what they need to do.
“Backside we just needed to match up and everything is fine, but we were overplaying ballside and leaving guys open on the backside and [River Ridge] played the ball on one side and put it to the backside and we were out of position.”
Gainesville senior Jean Mairena, who led the Hurricanes with 14 goals this season, scored at point-blank range with 13:21 left in the game to even the score, 1-1.
“[River Ridge] won the midfield and that put a lot of pressure on us,” Benjamin said. “And our attacking [midfielder] was trying to be all over the place instead of being more central, so whenever he got the ball he was usually on the side of the field instead of in front of the goal. Once he corrected that, he scored, but it was just a little too late.”
Following a scoreless first half, the Knights got on the board first scoring at the 28:36 mark in the second half while keeping Gainesville’s offense in check.
“In soccer, when you’re in front of the goal you have to want to score, so you have to be on your toes, you have to expect anything, and I think we were a little bit flat footed today,” Benjamin said. “We had opportunities in front of the goal and we were like a step too late.”
The Region 2’s top-seeded Hurricanes lost for the first time this season and allowed two goals after giving up only six coming into the game.
“I’m very, very proud of these guys,” Benjamin said. “To be honest, when I saw what we had coming back, I thought we could win a state championship this year and I told them that at the beginning. There were some key guys that didn’t play that were going to play for one reason or another, but that didn’t really hurt us at all. It’s almost like we didn’t even miss those guys. We just came out and we played well the entire year. So I’m really proud of our guys and what they accomplished.”
GHS advanced to the regional finals with a 1-0 win against New Smyrna Beach in Saturday’s regional semifinals, and beating Gateway (Kissimmee), 2-1, in the regional quarterfinals last Wednesday.