BRADENTON - Robby Highley earned his seventh shutout of the season Monday night in Manatee High's 0-0 tie with Lakewood Ranch, but the veteran Hurricanes goaltender was quick to point out he had plenty of help.
First, he mentioned the two Mustangs shots that caromed off the post and stayed out of his net.
"God is good," he said.
Then he motioned over to his teammate, Pablo Varon.
"Talk to this guy," Highley said. "Defenders never get recognized."
Varon's key to success?
"I just stayed deep and just watched how they moved the ball and stayed with the runners," Varon said. "They are a strong team."
Despite all the good work from Varon and Highley, the Mustangs also squandered some fine chances, particularly in the second half. In the final 40 minutes, Zach Jones missed two shots from close in, and Russell Lanier and Ben Jones found the post.
Lakewood Ranch coach Matt Kane liked the energy level his team showed in the final half. He said they won the 50-50 balls and dominated possession.
"The second half, I thought we played fairly well," said Lakewood Ranch coach Matt Kane. "If we play like that going into districts, I don't think we're gonna have that bad luck as far as hitting crossbars and posts. Those will start falling if we play like that."
Manatee's best scoring opportunities came in the first half.
"Yeah, but we got nothing out of it," Highley said.
The Canes keeper mentioned the word finishing, and his teammate said used the same word when he joined the conversation moments later.
"We just need to do a bit more finishing - a lot more finishing," Varon said.
Monday's game was the final Class 5A-District 11 game for both teams. Manatee (12-6-1) finished its district schedule 5-1-1, and Lakewood Ranch (10-4-4) ended up at 4-1-2.
Lakewood Ranch goalkeeper Aaron Kandel said the Mustangs showed something, despite the unimpressive score.
"We know how we can play, and sometimes we haven't been doing that," Kandel said. "From the beginning of the game, I could tell we wanted this one. We just stepped it up this game because we knew we needed a win. A draw is better than a loss."