Brandon Tarpley thought he knew where he wanted to be, and most importantly, where he wanted to play.
It was between upstart Braden River and consistently competitive Lakewood Ranch.
When his days at Lincoln Middle School were done, Tarpley was going be either a Pirate or a Mustang.
But a Palmetto Tiger?
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“I always thought that Palmetto wasn’t that good at soccer,” Tarpley said.
“I’ve come to find out Palmetto is the best soccer team there is in the county,” he said, “and maybe even the state.”
Tarpley has been a varsity Tiger since his freshman year. So have Edgar Campos, Jose Martinez, Guillermo Galvan and Jose Zamudio. They’re five guys who have helped Palmetto craft a Tiger-sized accomplishment: Four straight trips to a regional final.
The latest one is scheduled for 7 p.m. today, when the Core Five and Co. host Fort Myers for the Class 4A-Region 3 championship, and a berth in the state final four. The Tigers made the final four last year, becoming Manatee County’s first public school team to do so. Tonight, they’ll try to become the first team to make it twice.
It’s quite remarkable, really, what Palmetto has done. Four years. Four regional championship games. Countless win at far away places such as Wauchula, Arcadia and Naples Golden Gate. Countless classic moments, such as last year’s double-overtime win at Fort Myers Cypress Lake to clinch the program’s first regional title.
“We’ve got great kids in Palmetto,” said boys soccer coach Dustin Dahlquist. “Four years in a row — that says a lot about our work ethic. ... It says a lot about our kids, about what soccer means to them, because they play all the time.”
They play well, too. Making a regional final once is cause for celebration. Four times? That’s four district tournaments you have to qualify out of. That’s eight regional quarterfinals and semifinals you have to win, be it at home or on the road.
That’s four winters when you have to keep your focus, from the beginning of the season in November, through Christmas break, through the chilly winds of January and the early days of February, when the best teams play their best ball.
Palmetto has played its best ball for four years now, winning the games it has to, turning away powers such as the Tampa Jesuit Tigers, which seemed to throw everything but their six state championship trophies at Palmetto’s defense Tuesday.
Palmetto never bent. Palmetto hasn’t bent in four winters. And now the Tigers stand on the cusp of another trip to the University of Tampa, making Tarpley even happier he became a Tiger.
“To come to Palmetto and for this to happen,” he said, “this has been a great experience.”