Venice High School’s Drew Streich scored a hat trick as the Indians broke open a close game with three goals in the final 13 minutes to defeat Palmetto 5-2 in a Class 4A-Region 3 semifinal Saturday night.
The first three meetings between the teams were decided by one goal, and the fourth meeting looked as if it would follow suit with the teams deadlocked at 2 late in the second half. The Indians were awarded a corner kick from the left side in the 67th minute, but instead of kicking it toward the goal, John Gokey tapped it short to Derek Stepina, who put a shot past Tiger goalkeeper Ryan Hirst into the right side of the net to give Venice the lead.
That’s when the game got away from Palmetto. Streich scored on a penalty kick in the 76th minute, and Gokey scored off a throw-in from Stepina during stoppage time to account for the final margin.
“I don’t know if it opened up the floodgates, but obviously now we have to take chances,” Palmetto coach Rui Fernandes said. “At that point, it opens up the game a little bit and gives them more opportunities, and this is a very good Venice team that can go to the final four.”
The teams battled on even terms through the first half. Streich opened the scoring with a goal in the 13th minute, but the Tigers answered five minutes later when Frankie Arroyo converted off a pass from Candido Cavillo.
Although Venice took more shots than Palmetto, the score remained 1-1 at halftime.
Early in the second half, Streich got loose on a breakaway to give the Indians a 2-1 lead. Again, Palmetto answered quickly: Jorge Morales scored on a penalty kick to even the score at 2.
That’s how it stayed until the fateful corner kick, on which Fernandes said the Tigers fell asleep.
“If you’re aware that there’s two guys on the corner flag then you should bring two guys yourself. We just walked away from the ball thinking they were going to play it in, and there was a guy there and they didn’t notice it,” Fernandes said.
Palmetto didn’t make many changes to its game plan for the fourth matchup between the squads.
“We knew that we had to get in behind,” Fernandes said. “The last couple of times we played them everything was in front. So we wanted to play them behind the back line. I think we did that fairly well, but all you’re doing is tweaking a little bit and maybe doing something different in the set piece that they haven’t seen. We had seen the short corner, but not in a while, and we fell asleep.”
“Palmetto’s intensity level is amazing,” Venice coach Peter Tomich said. “I’ve never seen a team go from one end of the field to the other in seconds, and all of a sudden they have a goal scoring chance. Our goalkeeper (Grant Alexander) came up big and foiled a couple of those chances or it would have been a different game.”
Venice (15-2-3) will move on to host the regional final game on Tuesday. Palmetto ends its season 20-3-2, with all three losses coming at the hands of the Indians.
“It’s kind of frustrating to lose three times to one group,” Fernandes said. “You go 20-3-2 and you lose to Venice three times. It’s never easy but I think we’ll bounce back and come back next year stronger and better.”