LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Schmid Payen had become Lakewood Ranch's forgotten man.
He lost his starting job after an ankle injury and had been sitting out a long succession of games.
Then fate called.
Deadlocked at 2 in overtime against North Port on Tuesday night, host Lakewood Ranch lost a key player to a yellow card. Head coach Vito Bavaro had a feeling, and put Payen in the game.
Less than four minutes later, he knocked in the winning goal for a 3-2 victory to send the Mustangs onto the Class 4A-Region 3 boys soccer Final on Friday night. They will be home against Seminole, which upset Palmetto.
Lakewood Ranch is now a team of destiny, Bavaro proclaimed after the game, and you
won't find many people that disagree. The Mustangs were a fourth seed when district tournament play began and now are one victory away from the state final four.
Bavaro has now tallied 97 career victories, so if he wins state he will have reached the charmed number.
But this night belonged to Payen. If anybody had a right to complain about not playing he certainly did. But that is apparently not his style.
"It's been frustrating, but as long as we are winning, I am good with it. I don't know why coach put me in," Payen said. "I got the ball and thought I could beat the defender. When I get the ball I just take off. I was disappointed about not playing, but just keep myself prepared. If coach wants me I go in and do what he says."
In the district final against North Port, Lakewood Ranch was down 2-0 before coming back to win 3-2. In this match, the Mustangs took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a Reece Riggins goal.
North Port (13-9) scored two straight in the second half to lead 2-1, but with about 12 minutes left in regulation Felipe Dangond scored to tie it.
"It's been an up and down season. Our record (13-7-6) doesn't reflect on the kind of team we are because we had so many injuries," Payen said. "To get everyone back before districts and turn on the switch and win districts is great. We are playing our best now."
Lakewood Ranch also got another standout game from goalie Liam Bramley, who was kept busy all night as the Bobcats outshot the Mustangs by a 2-1 margin.
"This was like luck of the draw. Schmid was up next in the forward rotation and we put him in," Bavaro said. "We will take it. Better lucky than good, but we are a good team. Schmid was a starter at midfield when he got hurt and we made some switches and he moved up to the forward position. He hasn't had a lot of time. My thing is whoever is playing best at the time stays in that position and Felipe and Ryan Sollazzo were playing great up front."
Bavaro didn't say what he would do Friday and how many minutes Payen would play if at all despite acknowledging he has some serious scoring skills.
"He came up with a big goal tonight. It didn't surprise me because Schmid can play," Bavaro said. "I coach by gut and how things feel and I felt it was his time to go in and see what happens. I know he can shoot and he can score. Our goalie is the key to our defense. You can't go anywhere without a good goalie and we have the best."