BRADENTON - A smile spread across Fernando Hernandez's face.
Just how bad did the Southeast High sophomore want his hat trick?
"I wanted it really bad," he said. "Every time I play, I always want a hat trick. But sometimes you can't get it. I guess (Thursday) was my day."
He couldn't have picked a better one. Hernandez's three goals powered the Southeast boys past Bayshore 5-1 at John Kiker Memorial Stadium, giving the Seminoles (9-6-1, 6-0-1 Class 5A-District 12) the top seed for the district soccer tournament, which begins Jan. 22.
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Yet there was no semblance of celebration from the Seminoles - they entered last year's playoffs in the top slot before the eighth-seeded Bruins bounced them out of the first round.
"Last year, we were (overconfident)," Hernandez said. "We just want to keep trying and go all the way this time. We'll see what happens."
Hernandez made plenty of good things happen Thursday, beginning with the header he netted to give Southeast a 2-0 lead approximately nine minutes into the game. Francisco Hilerio opened the scoring about a minute earlier.
And after P.J. Moreau scored on a free kick late in the first half, Hernandez was the difference after the break, scoring twice to record his first hat trick in a Southeast uniform.
His last goal came while Hilerio sat on the bench, nursing a sore left ankle. Hilerio and Hernandez, good friends away from the field, have formed a strong partnership on it, too.
"Finally, they look like they've started gelling together. And that's good," Southeast coach Laszlo Halmi said. "We would like to see them really become a factor in district competition."
The Bruins (8-4-2, 3-3-1), who have progressed under second-year coach Erik Barbon, struggled against a Southeast team they will host Tuesday in a non-district game at Balvanz Stadium. A late goal from Bayshore's Jonathan Kurutz prevented the shutout.
"Individual mistakes cost us games," Barbon said. "You've got to play with heart. . . . We're coaching high school kids, so they're up and down."
Though his team's district slate is finished, Halmi hopes his kids learned a lesson from last year's postseason fizzle. He doesn't want to see any sort of a letdown, especially since Southeast will host this year's district tournament.
"Last year, we were in the same position, and we were beat out by Bayshore," he said. "We're not going to take anything easy this year - one game at a time. We don't think big yet. We're just going to go out there and try to win every game, if it's possible."