Working with a limited amount of time on Saturday, Lakewood Ranch High School senior forward Ricky Yanez knew he had to act.
Yanez took a long ball from classmate Connor Bezet and made a run down the left side of the field before beating Palm Harbor University goalkeeper Jack Gallagher in the 84th minute for the winning goal in the host Mustangs’ 4-3 triumph in the Class 5A-Region 2 semifinals. With the victory, Lakewood Ranch (17-2-1) earned the right to play host to Plant City, a 3-2 overtime winner over Orlando Freedom on Saturday, for the region championship on Tuesday night at 7.
“Connor gave me the long ball and I saw (teammate) Sam (Stapleton-Jones) running,” said Yanez, who has scored 15 goals this season. “I was holding it and waiting for Sam. Then, I saw Sam go down the line. I faked to pass it to Sam, cut in and shot it low on the ground right in the corner.
“I knew that we had six minutes left and we needed a goal, so I just had to take it.”
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Palm Harbor (17-3-0) took a 1-0 lead 21 minutes into the match as Hampton Lombard’s penalty kick got past Lakewood Ranch goalkeeper Ryan Freeman and bounced a couple of time before crossing the goal line. The Mustangs responded six minutes later: Sophomore Anthony Hroncich got a foot on a Bezet corner kick and put the ball into the net.
A little less than two minutes after Hroncich’s goal, Yanez set up junior Pablo Vargas’ goal that gave Lakewood Ranch a 2-1 edge. However, the two teams went into halftime tied at 2 after a goal by the Hurricanes’ Lucas Gelep in the 36th minute.
Vargas, who scored a goal and was credited with an assist on Bezet’s winning goal in a 2-1 overtime victory over Lutz Steinbrenner in the region quarterfinals, made it 3-2 Lakewood Ranch three minutes into the second half. Stapleton-Jones was credited with the assist on Vargas’ second goal of the match.
“I just have to go out there and do my work,” Vargas said. “Score goals for the team, support them and give the other team a hard time defensively.”
Palm Harbor believed it had a goal disallowed in the 54th minute, but it evened the score and set the stage for Yanez’s heroics on Liam Griffin’s goal in the 61st minute.
“(The Hurricanes) are a good team and we’re a good team,” Yanez said. “We’re both competitive. That game was all about heart.”
Class 5A-Region 2
Lakewood Ranch 4, Palm Harbor 3
Class 4A-Region 3
Venice 5, Palmetto 2
Class 1A-Region 2
CSN 2, Saint Stephen’s 1
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