LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Guy Virgilio calculates he has been missing 3.4 girls per match this season because of injuries.
Among the missing for the Lakewood Ranch head girls soccer coach was Delaney Riggins, who sat out the entire regular season with torn ligaments in her ankle.
She returned for the postseason, and Virgilio cannot measure her value. You might say his personal calculator is overwhelmed by her value.
The junior scored the only goal with an assist from Tyler Gordon 14 minutes into the match to lead the host Mustangs to a 1-0 victory
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over Venice in the Class 4A-Region 3 semifinal Saturday night.
The triumph sends Lakewood Ranch to Plant City on Tuesday night for the region final and chance to advance to the 4A state final four. Plant City defeated Seminole 1-0 in its region semifinal. It will be the third region final for the Mustangs, who have been to the state final four once.
"It was a cross in, and someone passed it to me and I hit front post. It was only my second goal of the year," Riggins said. "It's good to be back. I missed playing. It feels great. Since I've been playing here, we've never made it past the region semifinals."
Venice kept the pressure on all game, particularly in the second half, and finished with eight shots on goal. Ranch goalkeeper Alex Latham was credited with three saves, and the Mustangs had 12 shots on goal.
Lakewood Ranch (18-1-4) notched its 14th shutout -- all behind Latham -- as the defense continued to be the driving force in its playoff run.
"They are so young (on defense), and they surprise you and make some mistakes. But the seniors are playing the way they need to play," Virgilio said. "Our defense got us through this game. We were able to contain their forwards. Now we are getting everybody back (from injuries) and we are playing like we are supposed to play.
"Delaney is very strong and big in a sense that she is going to go get the ball. When you get her the ball in the air, she is going to do something with it. The other team knows they have to mark her, and if they mark her tight somebody else is going to be open."
The Indians (17-6-2) might have been a surprise opponent. They edged Naples Barron Collier 1-0 in overtime on the road to get another chance to beat Lakewood Ranch. It was the first region victory for the Venice girls program since 1994.
It was the fourth meeting between Venice and Ranch with the Mustangs winning three matches, including the district final. The other game ended in a tie.
"It is very hard to beat a team three times," Virgilio said. "In the last practices we had, we were saying that we are playing Venice and we never played them before. You have to look at it that way because we knew they were going to come after us. I didn't want the girls to think we beat them twice and we can beat them again, which I am glad we did but it wasn't easy."
The Mustangs continued to get strong play from their young fullbacks: freshman Hannah Miller and sophomore Tatum Young. Latham was solid in the net and welcomed the pressure she was under, particularly in the second half.
"It is always good to be involved in the game. I like to contribute sometimes," Latham said. "A second goal would've given me a sigh of relief and room to breathe. I felt a lot of pressure at the end. The other teams always push hard in those last two minutes, and it's real stressful back there.
"Our defense is strong because everyone is individually solid and as a team we can hold very well. We have two younger fullbacks and they really pull through for us."