LAKEWOOD RANCH -- With the postseason looming a week away, Lakewood Ranch's girls soccer team geared up for another crack at an elusive state championship with Monday's non-district match against visiting Palmetto.
The Mustangs showcased something they didn't possess during last winter's stirring state semifinal run in Monday's game with the Tigers.
They flashed a cohesive attacking force that racked up a 6-0 victory.
The Mustangs, who ran their record to 17-0-2, advanced to their second state semifinal in four seasons last year on the back of a nearly impenetrable defense.
That defense has been stiff this year, too, with just six goals allowed -- the last conceded goals coming in mid-November before Thanksgiving.
But Ranch struggled to find the net in the 2013-14 season, which ended with a 3-0 setback to eventual state champion Melbourne in the Class 4A semifinals.
This year's team, which returned six starters off last season's club, is packing more of a punch and it's something head coach Guy Virgilio said is huge heading into the postseason.
On Monday, the Mustangs began slowly as Palmetto's high pressure kept Ranch from unlocking the final third of the pitch with any consistency.
However, the first-half water break generated just the right momentum shift as the Mustangs bagged four goals in the 33 minutes following the restart.
Senior forward Talia Falco was the main benefactor, tallying a hat trick with two of those goals coming off Julia Ortiz crosses.
The partnership between the two and Falco's younger sister, Sophia, is a major weapon for Virgilio, especially the added dimension of Ortiz flying down the wing and providing width in the attack.
"(Ortiz) has great speed," Virgilio said. "She can run forever."
Sophia Falco, a sophomore, scored the opener off a feed from Talia Falco, and then completed her brace on a free header from an Ortiz cross -- her third assist in the match -- just 12 minutes from the end of the first half.
The latter goal was the first of the four-goal spurt that the Mustangs engineered to salt the game away.
"The second half was obviously much better," Virgilio said. "We started possessing the ball. We started keeping it away from them. So, therefore, they had to come and get the ball from us. We opened the game up a little more. In the first half, it was way too tight."
Julia Nordhausen, a senior, claimed the final goal for the Mustangs just five minutes from time.
Meanwhile, Palmetto head coach Nelson Lopez said his team needs to work on its touches heading into the postseason.
The Tigers (7-5) only had three shots, with two coming on goal. Jade Adams, a senior, delivered one of those shots and was a spark for Palmetto as she was difficult to stop all game from the midfield.
"When she gets it on her foot, she does a lot of great things," Lopez said.
However, the supporting cast wasn't there against the more talented Mustangs, who offered a top-notch opponent at the tail end of the season for Lopez's crew.
"Playing a Lakewood Ranch team ... they're only going to make us better," Lopez said.
MANATEE 4, VENICE 3 -- Sydney Cornell scored two goals, and Meredith Roberts added a goal and two assists as the visiting Hurricanes (13-1-2) beat the Indians. The Canes also added an own goal.