Connor Bezet and his Lakewood Ranch boys soccer team had to work a little overtime to make sure Wednesday would be a day the senior midfielder would truly never forget.
Hours after making the decision to continue his playing career at Southeast University official, Bezet set off a raucous celebration and found himself at the bottom of a dog pile after scoring a golden goal in the 85th minute as the host Mustangs recorded a 2-1 overtime victory over Lutz Steinbrenner in the Class 5A-Region 2 quarterfinals. Lakewood Ranch (16-2-1) advanced to the region semifinals for the first time since a run to the state semifinals in 2014 with the win, while Steinbrenner’s season ended at 18-5-2.
“I was just doing what I’ve been trying to do the whole year — stay outside and wide,” Bezet said. “When I get that opportunity, I see that goal and make my run I just try my best and try to hit it on target. If it goes in, it goes in.”
Lakewood Ranch head coach Vito Bavaro, whose program had lost its previous two region quarterfinal matches, had a good feeling as he saw the winning play developing between Pablo Vargas and Bezet from the sideline. Then again, Bavaro was in no position to take anything for granted considering that the Mustangs had 11 shots to the Warriors’ four and still found themselves in overtime because of a less-than-spectacular goal by Steinbrenner’s Steven Soronellas in the 45th minute.
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“We earned it (Wednesday night),” Bavaro said. “It wasn’t easy, but at this point you just have to win, right?”
In addition to being credited with an assist on the winning goal, Vargas opened the scoring in the seventh minute when he buried a penalty kick. The junior and fellow forward Ricky Yanez, a senior, would not be as successful on the rest of their opportunities throughout the match.
“I definitely feel relieved,” Vargas said. “I did that run and thankfully Bezet was there to finish it. I honestly just crossed it and he was there. He just shot and scored.”
The previous two postseason losses were a motivating factor for the Mustangs, according to their head coach and the combination of Bezet and Vargas. Now, they set their sights on Saturday’s region semifinal against visiting Palm Harbor University, which improved to 17-2-0 with a 6-2 win over Sarasota Riverview on Wednesday.
“I would definitely say that there was pressure because of the last two years,” Bezet said. “We just always had that in the back of our mind. We wanted to forget about that and just move on now that we’ve got through this.”
Palmetto 1, Naples Gulf Coast 0: Goalkeeper Freddie Manriquez made a diving stop on the final penalty kick to give the visiting Tigers (20-2-1) a victory over the Sharks (18-1-5) in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals.
In penalty kicks, the Sharks missed their first two before Dylan Rodrigues and Stephen Votapek connected. But the Tigers scored three in a row to go up 3-2 with Luis Ortiz still to shoot for Gulf Coast.
Ortiz stuttered to the ball before blasting a shot at the left post. Manriquez guessed correctly and swatted the ball away before being mobbed by teammates. Palmetto won the penalty kicks, 3-2, to earn the win.
As Ortiz approached the ball, Manriquez started pointing to his right, saying he knew Ortiz would shoot that way. It was purposeful deception. It worked.
“I know it intimidates him because when keepers do that to me, I know I get a little scared,” Manriquez said. “I stopped it, and I saw the whole team coming at me. It was a great feeling.”
Community School of Naples 8, Out-of-Door Academy 0: Senior William Crowell had a hat trick and CSN (21-1-1) advanced with a victory over ODA (10-8-2) in the 1A-2 quarterfinals.
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