LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For the first time in history, the Lakewood Ranch boys soccer team is going to the state semifinals.
The Mustangs kept their dream season alive after defeating visiting Seminole 5-3 in Friday's Class 4A-Region 3 final.
The boys team has historically taken a back seat to the girls program, which earned its second state semifinal appearance this season.
"We're just trying to follow the girls," Mustangs boys soccer head coach Vito Bavaro said. "For Lakewood Ranch High School to have their boys and their girls team make states, that's just an unbelievable accomplishment for Coach Guy (Virgilio) and myself and the kids."
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For the first portion of the season, it didn't look like the Mustangs boys would gain any hardware.
But when the calendar flipped to 2014, the Mustangs rode
momentum from getting players back from injury and a small winning streak as postseason play began.
One of those players, senior forward Ryan Sollazzo, played a vital role in the Mustangs' advancement from Friday's region final.
"The speed and determination, it was just strong," Bavaro said. "Ryan missed most of the first half of the year. To get him back and to get everybody back healthy, we're going to be a tough team at states, I don't care who we are playing."
Seminole's defense shut down Palmetto's high-powered attack and potent goal-scoring forward Gregorio Calvillo in last week's region semifinal.
But on Friday, the Mustangs presented a different challenge with their long-ball style.
"Palmetto is usually all passing; they like to pass a lot. We just send it up," said Sollazzo, who missed time earlier this season with a quad injury. "When we send it up, their defenders couldn't control it. They couldn't head it, so it was just speed running right past them. That was the game plan."
The benefactor of the lobbing tactic was Sollazzo, who converted a penalty for the first goal of the match past Seminole keeper Tom Palmer's outstretched arms in the 14th minute. That 1-0 lead was doubled later off Ranch's bread-and-butter, the long ball.
Felipe Dangond held the ball, shifted to the outside and found Sollazzo, who turned and delivered an inch-perfect through ball to a streaking Ben Wilson.
The junior midfielder shook his defender to find himself one-on-one with Palmer and buried his chance.
However, the Warhawks fought back to cut their deficit to 2-1 before halftime as senior Andrew Goodman scored the first of his two goals with a one-time long-range effort into the top left corner of the goal.
Withstanding the momentum shift to hold a lead heading into the break coupled with two additional goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half were key to the Mustangs' victory.
"If we win the next 20 minutes, we win the game," Bavaro said. "And we did that."
Sollazzo tallied his second assist with a cross that found Dangond's head in the box just two minutes into the second half. He completed his brace with a second goal just four minutes later.
Junior forward Connor Franko completed Ranch's scoring with a goal in the 51st minute, just a few moments after being substituted onto the pitch.
"I could care less if I score the goals, as long as we win," Sollazzo said.
Seminole didn't quit, though, and Goodman wrapped his brace up with right-footed blast past Ranch keeper Liam Bramley with roughly 16 minutes remaining in the match.
Another goal from long range came four minutes from time, and the Mustangs weathered the barrage to book a trip into next week's state semifinals in Melbourne. They will meet Melbourne at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at Eastern Florida State College.