SARASOTA -- So close, yet so far.
The Out-Of-Door-Academy girls soccer team came within 90 seconds of making history before its dreams were crushed in what seemed like a cruel stroke of bad fortune.
ODA was clinging to a 1-0 lead it had taken into halftime, and The Thunder looked ready to walk off with a victory and their first trip to the region semifinal.
Then a shot by Community School of Naples wasn't cleared by ODA, and the ricochet went to Mercer Bleh, who was standing just inside the box in the middle. She knocked in a goal to tie the game at 1 with 90 seconds left in regulation.
CSN took that momentum and Emma Goodman's goal in the 83rd minute delivered a 2-1 overtime victory over host ODA in a Class 2A-Region 2 quarterfinal match Thursday night.
"On that last goal (in regulation) we had a little lapse. We tried to play out of the back and at certain times you have to consider the situation in the game," ODA head coach Bill Unzicker said. "At that point, we should have just cleared it and assured ourselves an opportunity. The ball came out and went back in and they have a solid striker."
ODA played defense nearly the entire second half and was not able to convert on the few scoring opportunities it had. Goalie Chloe Spingler was under fire all game, but she held her own until late.
"I didn't see the winning goal. I think we kind of over-stepped a little bit and they got through on the back side on us and we were not able to cover that back runner and she just came in and put it away," Unzicker said.
ODA finished the season 9-7. Though The Thunder was district champion, CSN (17-4-2) lost only one player off last year's state final-four team.
"We want to stress the importance of defending, but we just don't want to sit on our heels. That was not our priority. We wanted to stress that we needed to defend first and attack together," Unzicker said.
ODA received its goal late in the first half from Natalie Gorji, an eighth-grader who typifies a young team that loses three seniors.
"That was a great throw through from Maddie (Madisyn Opstal) to Natalie, and Natalie gave us a great goal and a lead," Unzicker said. "We had a couple of more chances, but it's the nature of the game. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn't. It's amazing she is only an eighth grader."
ODA was coming off its second straight district championship. Last year was the program's first in school history, but The Thunder made a better showing in this year's region quarterfinal after losing 5-0 a year ago.
"Consistency is how you build programs. That's a recipe for success," Unzicker said. "Last year when we hosted the region it was 5-0. This year we held a team that graduated one senior from its state final four team to almost the end."
ODA returns 11 players, who are eighth and ninth graders along with three sophomores and a junior with many of them bringing back two years of regional tournament experience.
"That is a great thing for us. These girls stepped it up when they had to," Unzicker said.