PALMETTO - The Palmetto High girls soccer team remembered all too well the outcome the last time they played Estero - a lopsided loss that turned on the Wildcats' speed and skill.
They vowed this year's match would be different.
The Tigers decided they would force the action during Tuesday's Class 4A-Region 3 semifinal at Palmetto High.
"We had nothing to lose," Palmetto tri-captain Rachel Ramirez said.
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For 40 minutes, it worked. The Tigers controlled the tempo, did all the scoring in the first half and took a three-goal lead at halftime.
But it wasn't enough.
Estero's Alex Sheckler scored four times, the last with 4:15 remaining in sudden death overtime as the Wildcats rallied for a 4-3 victory.
"(At halftime) we were saying we got this, we got this in the bag," Ramirez said. "I think we let down a little bit."
Estero (18-5), the defending regional champions, travels to Fort Myers Cypress Lake (18-5) on Friday for the regional title and a rematch of the 4A-District 11 championship game won by Cypress Lake and a rematch of last year's regional final won by Estero, 1-0.
"All we've been thinking about is the Cypress game," Sheckler said. "We weren't really focused early in (Tuesday's) game."
Looking ahead almost cost Estero its season and almost moved Palmetto (13-7) to its first-ever regional championship game.
Marisol Valente scored two minutes into the game to get Estero's attention. Vanessa Bazen made it 2-0 midway through the first half when she caught up with the ball in front of the Estero goal and slipped it past goalie Kayla Kincaid. Alyssa Webler made it 3-0 late in the half. It could have been 4-0 Palmetto had the referee not waived off another first half goal.
Still, the Tigers, which lost 4-1 to Estero in the region semis last season, had what appeared to be a commanding lead.
"I told them (at halftime) you wanted an exciting game, well you got one. Let's go play it," Estero coach Ali Fabbro said.
Then she moved Sheckler from midfield to forward, because her forwards did not do a good job of controlling the ball during the first 40 minutes.
Less then 20 minutes later, the score was tied.
"That gave them a little more speed up front, and we couldn't match it," Palmetto coach Art Weaver said.
It didn't help that Ramirez missed most of the second half with a bruised right calf or that midfielder Emily Enneking was under the weather, Weaver said.
That created a soft spot in the middle of the Tigers' defense, Weaver said, and Sheckler made them pay.
"I give them a lot of credit," Weaver said. "They came out and kept their heads up. But they knew they were in a game with us. Last year, they pretty much dominated us."