PALM HARBOR -- Ashleigh Parker almost single-handedly kept Manatee's girls soccer season alive.
A freshman goalie, Parker suffered a deep-tissue bruise in her left wrist while playing in a club tournament over the weekend. But there she was during a rainy Tuesday night in Palm Harbor, holding one barrage after another at bay as
the Hurricanes tried to tack another accomplishment on to what has been a memorable winter.
Parker and Manatee fell a bit short, however, losing to Palm Harbor University 2-0 in a Class 5A-Region 2 semifinal, the Hurricanes' first region semifinal appearance since 1999.
"It hurt a lot. I just kind of had to kind of deal with it," Parker said. "I did (consider not playing), but as soon as the doctor said I could play, I said, 'OK, what do I have to do to be on the field?'"
Parker snared nine saves, including seven in the second half, when PHU, also nicknamed the Hurricanes, kept the ball pinned on Manatee's end of the field.
It was the opposite of a tightly-contested opening half, when the teams combined for eight shots and neither attempted a corner kick.
"I think they applied a lot more pressure in the second half than they did in the first half," said Manatee coach George Ameres, "which kind of created a little more trouble for us in the back and made it difficult for us to clear the ball or find our outlets.
"We were back on our heels there for most of the second half."
Palm Harbor University broke through with roughly 22 minutes remaining when a ball glanced off a Manatee defender and right to Alexis Mouton, who looped in a shot from about 15 yards.
"I told the girls whoever makes that one little mistake is going to cost a goal, and that goal is going to cost us the game," Ameres said. "Sure enough, they pressured us in there, we didn't get a good clear on the ball, we miskicked it, and she was there to put the ball in the back of the net."
Manatee (15-5-2) pushed all but two defenders forward in the game's waning minutes in an attempt to net the equalizer. But PHU took advantage when Kayla Mouton dribbled into the goal box and scored with fewer than 10 minutes remaining.
It was a rough end to a banner season for the local Hurricanes, who clinched their first district title and region tournament victory since 1999.
"For us to get to where we were (Tuesday) ... and be able to compete with (PHU), I'm fired up, man," Ameres said. "That's exciting."
"I'm really excited," she said. "A lot of us are sophomores and freshmen, so the next couple of years are going to be our best years, in my opinion."