LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Guy Virgilio could lament that for two straight years the luck of the draw stopped his Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team from reaching its goal.
Two consecutive trips to the Class 4A state final four ended in semifinal losses to eventual state champion Melbourne.
"You wonder about that, but to be the best you have to beat the best," Virgilio said a day after his girls lost 3-0 to Melbourne.
Melbourne defeated Fleming Island in two overtimes on Saturday to win its second straight state title and has not lost a match in two seasons.
This year's Lakewood Ranch squad finished with a single-season program record for victories in going 23-1-1. The girls won their 11th district title and reached their third final four in five years.
"We would've liked to win the last two years, but the experience was like part of life, you win a few and you lose a few," Virgilio said. "Still, we had a phenomenal season, and I got a chance to coach a great group of girls."
Melbourne's first goal came off a ricochet that might have been the result of some good fortune on the Bulldogs' part. Lakewood Ranch hung in there until another goal put the Mustangs behind 2-0 with eight minutes left.
"It was kind of over then. They are the best team we played all year, and we stuck with them for nearly the whole game," Virgilio said. "They were strong in the middle and did a phenomenal job of stopping us on the outside, but we hung in there. That first goal that went in changed the momentum of the game."
Virgilio said the size and the physicality of Melbourne hampered his team from getting anything going on offense. With about 13 minutes left in the match he moved goalie Alex Latham up and put Danielle Wilson in at keeper. He also had defensive specialist Juliana Guida move up to midfield.
"We were struggling at center-mid, and Alex is a very physical player. I put her up there to see if we could win the middle and equalize things," Virgilio said. "A big factor in the game is that they were so big and physical in the middle and kept winning the 50-50 balls. Tactically, we were doing things we needed to do to win the middle, but our girls couldn't match up and then we got tired."
Lakewood Ranch will lose the backbone of its team in seniors Latham, Guida, Lindsay Martinez, Bri Reda and Delaney Riggins.
There is a strong nucleus returning, though. Those coming back include Talia and Sophia Falco, the second- and third-leading scorers on the team behind Riggins, and defensive stalwarts Hannah Miller and Tatum Young.
"The moral of the story is that it was a good match for 90 minutes. Maybe it's just not our time yet," Virgilio said.