LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Controlling the midfield usually determines who will win a soccer match.
It's all about dictating the pace and flow of the game.
During Wednesday's Class 4A-Region 3 boys quarterfinal, visiting Naples Gulf Coast held the possession in the middle of the park, and the Sharks use it to a launch a 4-1 victory over Lakewood Ranch.
"We seemed to be deer in the headlights in the first 10 minutes," said Mustangs head coach Vito Bavaro, whose club finished the season at 16-6-4. "We watched them, and they came at us and possessed the ball and con
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trolled it. And pushed really hard, and that's our game plan. ... The difference was they were doing it and we weren't. So our kids came into the game a little shell-shocked, and they played shell-shocked."
The Sharks (15-3-3) scored the opener in the 10th minute off a long throw-in that was headed by Owen McCorkle to Andre De Greef, who headed the ball past Ranch keeper Liam Bramley.
That strike didn't shatter the Mustangs' confidence, but Gulf Coast doubled its lead just eight minutes later from Clayton Curvin's crafty flick with the outside of his right foot.
Down 2-0, Ranch head coach Vito Bavaro was forced to push his players high up the pitch in an effort to attack more.
The damage, though, was already done and the Sharks added two more Curvin goals as he finished his hat trick 15 minutes into the second half after faking a shot to force Bramley (13 saves) to the ground before depositing a left-footed effort into an empty net.
"He's been our rock," Scott said of Curvin, who has 28 goals on the year. "He's a tremendous finisher. He's a tremendous kid, a hard worker on and off the field, and it translates into games."
That brought the game to an insurmountable 4-0 advantage for the Sharks, who won a playoff game for the third consecutive year.
Last season, they knocked off Braden River and Manatee before exiting in the regional finals.
"We're a team that strikes fast, plays fast," Scott said. "And it's translated well when we get up here."
For Gulf Coast, the game plan of shutting down Ryan Sollazzo and Jason Ferguson was executed to perfection. The Mustangs only had five shots (two on goal) for the match.
Ferguson started at sweeper due to the injury bug hitting the Mustangs recently, but the senior did bag a goal late in the second half with a left-footed blast.
By that point, though, Scott removed several starters -- including his younger brother, Eric, who plays keeper -- as the game's result was long determined.
And it came down to the strength and speed the Sharks demonstrated all over the pitch. It was most recognizable when they were clogging up the midfield.
"It was definitely to sit in the middle of the field," Scott said of Gulf Coast's game plan. "It was to force them to play a different style of game. We had seen some film on them, and we knew their style of play would cause some problems if we didn't control the middle of the field. And we did what we had to do."
Despite the outcome, the future is bright for Ranch. The Mustangs lose eight seniors, but Bavaro said they'll get a good new crop of players next season.
"We should be around for a long time," Bavaro said. " ... We have a young team and we should build from there. We should have a serious run at states in the next two, three years."
NAPLES BARRON COLLIER 1, MANATEE 0 (3-2 PK) -- The Hurricanes and Cougars played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinal before host Barron Collier pulled out the victory in penalty kicks.
Xavier Erazo and Johnny Salgado knocked in the two shots for Manatee (13-9-3) in the penalty kicks.
"We played a very good team, and the boys played really well on an artificial surface. The boys responded really well," Manatee coach Rene Mirandilla said.