MELBOURNE -- After a two-year absence, the Melbourne High girls soccer team is returning to the state final. This time, it will be on the Bulldogs' own field.
Keira McCarthy scored twice, while Riley Greer and her defense shut out Lakewood Ranch for a 2-0 victory in the Class 4A semifinal round.
The Mustangs (19-2-4) came in with a highly respected defense backed by Alexandra Latham, a junior goalkeeper with elite academy training. But it was Greer and the Bulldogs who dominated defensively on Friday.
Melbourne improved to 24-0-1 and will face Lakeland George Jenkins, a 1-0 winner on a 4-3 penalty kick edge over Fleming Island, also on Friday. The 4A final will be played at Melbourne High -- the site of all the boys and girls championships -- 1:05 p.m. Feb. 9.
For Bulldogs senior Alexandra Koenig, it will be a return trip. As a freshman, she won a championship ring in the second of two consecutive titles for the school.
"It was such an honor to play with those (2010) girls. They left behind such a legacy of complete excellence," Koenig said, adding her current team shares some characteristics of that championship group. "If anything, we have just the pure desire to win, the pure desire to get better after every game."
When Friday's scheduled game time of 7 p.m. arrived, desire was all the Bulldogs and Mustangs had. No game officials came to the game, and local replacements had to be found. Play was delayed until 8:15 p.m.
Head coach Rosanna Lord took her team inside in the interim and restarted its preparation.
"It was almost like you're preparing yourself for another game," she said. Whatever the Bulldogs did, it worked. Nine minutes in, McCarthy lofted a shot from the right side of the goal with Latham too far out to adjust.
Hannah Debose had the assist. Jessica Feronti assisted later in the half.
Lakewood Ranch coach Guy Virgilio refused to use the delay as an excuse.
"Our girls played their hearts out," he said. "We weren't able to get in the flow of our game because of their quickness and their efficiency with the ball. I can honestly say that we were beaten by a better team."
Melbourne has been better than every team in its classification twice previously under Lord. The 2009 Bulldogs won it all in 6A in Tampa and returned as a 5A team the following year for a repeat. George Jenkins has been a runner-up twice in the last four years, including last season, when it lost to Ida Baker, 1-0.
Lakewood Ranch made its second trip to the state semifinal. In 2010, it lost on penalty kicks to St. John's Bartram Trail.