MELBOURNE -- Melbourne had a hometown advantage, a title to defend and somebody to play for.
The Bulldogs needed every edge they could get, facing another previously unbeaten team in Lakewood Ranch, but the formula worked for a 3-0 Melbourne state semifinal victory at Eastern Florida State College.
Their reward is a 3 p.m. Class 4A championship game Saturday against Fleming Island, a 2-0 winner over Pembroke Pines Charter in Friday's first game. It will be the first postseason meeting between Melbourne, now 22-0, and the Golden Eagles (18-1-2).
The Mustangs (22-1-1) made their third state semifinal appearance in five seasons and are still looking for their first win in the final four.
The three goals was the most defensive-minded Lakewood Ranch gave up all season. The Mustangs had recorded 18 shutouts and had not allowed a goal since the opening game of the postseason.
The defending state champion Bulldogs entered Friday's game with Rachel Price fresh on their minds and her name written on wristbands.
They watched a season review before the game, including a segment devoted to Price. Price, who was killed when a drunk driver pulled out in front of her 11 months ago, was a Melbourne state champion herself and an offensive whiz during her career participation in international competition.
Senior Taylor Eller showed her wristband with "Play for Price" inscribed in green, along with an ice pack on her knee that represented her determination to score Melbourne's third goal. Eller collided with Lake
wood Ranch goalkeeper Alex Latham but headed the ball into the goal with an assist from Izzy Loyd.
"I knew this is one of my last games, so I went to go for the goal," Eller said. "It just overextended (the knee), but I'm fine."
The goal with 2:13 to play erased any doubt, if any remained after Hannah DeBose scored six minutes prior. She took a pass from Olivia DeJong with her right foot, tipped it to her left and drove it into the net.
"My dad kind of always made me know it was important to be able to use both feet," DeBose said. "Rosie and Mike (Lord) always say 1-0 is never a comfortable game."
Melbourne had shifted to a bit more defensive approach after halftime with a 1-0 lead. Keira McCarthy scored the game's only goal before intermission in one of the game's few solid openings to that point. She took a crossing shot on a play that seemed to be moving in slow motion but bounced off the left post and into the net.
In typical Melbourne fashion, the team's midfielders and defenders gave Lakewood Ranch very little chance at getting on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs have not allowed a postseason goal.