PALMETTO -- Seven minutes into his high school career, Howie Sanders made his first error.
With the ball comfortably away from the net, Palmetto's freshman goalkeeper relaxed for a moment a few feet off his line. From more than 30 yards away, Manatee midfielder Daniel Reyna ripped a shot over Sanders' outstretched arms and into the back of the net.
Sanders took a second to regroup. The next time the Hurricanes came down the field he made more of an effort to talk. When Reyna struck the ball the first time, Sanders wasn't sure where it was. For the final 73 minutes the goalie was nearly perfect, only allowing another goal with 11 minutes remaining in the Tigers' 5-2 win at Harllee Stadium in Palmetto.
"I couldn't really see the ball until it got two feet away," Sanders said. "I calmed down a little bit. It all started going good from that point on."
PHS (7-4-1, 4-2-1 Class 4A-District 11) expected Sanders to be in the mix at goalkeeper this season before an injury to the AC joint in his left shoulder forced him out of the Tigers' first 11 games. He was finally cleared before the Canes (3-4-3, 1-2-2 Class 5A-District 8) visited Palmetto on Tuesday and helped PHS extend its unbeaten streak to five games.
Aside from Reyna's early goal, the Tigers controlled possession early and peppered Manatee goalkeeper with three shots and two shots on goal during the first four minutes. Sanders only faced one shot, which skirted wide of the net, before the midfielder caught him off guard to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
"There's work to do," assistant coach Mike Meehan said. "We have work to defensively, but I thought Howie did well for his first varsity start."
PHS' issues during its down periods this season have stemmed from an inability to prevent scoring. In three of its four losses and its lone draw, Palmetto allowed at least three goals. Between the seventh and 69th minutes against a solid side, Sanders held the Canes at bay.
And the Tigers, who have won four times and tied once during their last five games to reach second in the district, only trailed Manatee for five minutes. Midfielder Leandro Gonzalez headed in a cross from forward Candido Calvillo in the 12th minute to tie the game.
A minute later midfielder Tynon Dolan threaded a through ball to fellow midfielder Emmanuel Martinez down the right side of the box to give PHS the lead for good.
"We're definitely improving as a team," Sanders said. "This wasn't our best game, but we're going to get better at practice tomorrow and work on things that we need to work on."
Even so, Palmetto was in control by halftime after Dolan and midfielder Fabrizzio Lopez each scored during the final 10 minutes of the first half to send the Tigers into the break ahead, 4-1.
Hurricane defensive midfielder Logan Thomasson cut PHS' lead to two goals with a tally in the 69th minute before Calvillo finished off Palmetto's win with a stoppage-time score. Five days after upsetting previously unbeaten North Port, the Tigers added a win against a rival. They'll finish district play Thursday against Braden River in Palmetto with a chance to seal the No. 2 seed and now they have more help to solve their greatest weakness.
"I thought Howie was poised in the net. He had good distribution out of the back," Meehan said. "I thought he did an incredible job in the net."