PLANT CITY -- The Lakewood Ranch girls soccer program has a reputation for turning out high-scoring teams that feature a couple prolific scorers.
This year's squad is the exception.
With defense their forte, these Mustangs have a chance to be the program's most successful team.
The 2012-13 version became the second squad in the program's 13-year history to win a region championship when it edged host Plant City 1-0 on Tuesday night to capture the Class 4A-Region 3 crown.
It was the 14th shutout for the 19-1-4 Mustangs and their second straight 1-0 triumph. They gave up only one goal in their three-game region tournament sweep.
The victory sends Lakewood Ranch to perennial power Melbourne for Friday night's Class 4A state semifinal. If the Mustangs prevail, they will return to Melbourne the following weekend for the state championship match.
Lakewood Ranch's other trip to the state semifinals came in 2009-10, when it fell to St. Johns Bartram Trail on penalty kicks.
Angelica Rego scored Lakewood Ranch's goal with 4:17 left in the first half Tuesday on an assist from defensive standout Tatum Young. It was the 15th goal of the season for Rego, who is second on the team behind Tyler Gordon (17 goals).
"Compared to the other team that went to the state, this one is younger and scrappier. The will of these girls is very strong, and it's better defensively," said Guy Virgilio, the program's only head coach.
The Lakewood Ranch girls held their own and missed some scoring opportunities, finishing with nine shots, five on goal, while Plant City (11-4-3) launched nine shots.
"After we scored, we relaxed a little bit, but I was real proud of the girls and how they handled it," Virgilio said. "We started coming back, and I thought we would get at least one more
goal. Then Plant City started pushing forward and tried to sneak one in. We had to put five in the back to beef up the defense, and we got the job done. We were lucky enough to put one in there."
Rego said she was basically at the right place at the right time.
"Our defender crossed it in, and the keeper was kind of charging for it. It was kind of bouncing there and I just ran in front of her and kicked it in," Rego said. "This is exciting. I've never been this far, and we are so close, just two games away from winning it all. Our defense has been the key. Our two center defenders (Amanda Baar and Juliana Guida) have been amazing. Nothing gets by them.
"At the end when they pulled everybody up, we were kind of worried and pulled our forwards back, put a bunch of people in the middle and tried not to let them through. I am a forward but was playing midfield the second half to keep things together."
After they scored, the Mustangs' midfield decided to make a more concerted effort to play defense, which proved crucial. Virgilio praised Guida and Baar for their efforts on the defensive end, along with keeper Alex Latham.
"That is the strength and the heart of our team," Virgilio said. "And we've got a couple of young ones in the back (Young and Hannah Miller) who are riding the coattail deal and doing a fantastic job. Hannah is Sarah Miller's sister if you remember.
"A lot of our girls had never been here before and didn't play their normal style. But they played real scrappy and we were able to get it done. "