The Lakewood Ranch Mustangs knew that Lake Mary would be dangerous with the high ball going into Saturday night’s Class 5A state semifinal matchup.
For nearly half the game, the Mustangs were able to shut down the high-flying Rams. But Lake Mary changed its approach late in the first half, and the adjustment worked as the Rams went on to beat the Mustangs 2-0 at Lakewood Ranch High School.
Lakewood Ranch had several chances to get on the board in the first half, only to see Lake Mary keeper Michael DeMarco make a spectacular save or narrowly miss an open net. Their best chance may have come when Wilmer Yanez narrowly missed an open net on a throw-in during the 30th minute.
The Mustangs defense kept intercepting passes across the field, which forced the Rams to change their game plan after the first half water break. Lakewood Ranch was also excelling with throw-ins and corner kicks but still wasn’t able to get on the board before the break.
“We had about four or five chances and if we put those away it’s a different game,” Lakewood Ranch coach Vito Bavaro said. “We threw everything we had at them – but we missed a couple of opportunities.”
Lake Mary’s aerial attack struck in the 51st minute when Angel Flores sailed a corner kick toward the Lakewood Ranch net. Luke Chappel was waiting for the ball and placed a header perfectly into the right side of the net and out of the reach of Mustangs keeper Ryan Freeman.
“They’re great in the air, and obviously they’re great on the ground too,” Freeman said. “We gave them too many chances in the air with those balls. They were really tough to defend and they did a great job of finishing.”
Five minutes later, Gadiel Santiago found Jack Ireland with a high pass in the box. Ireland knocked the shot in for what would be the final goal of the game.
“We’ve got some big boys that are good in the air ... and we play toward that,” Lake Mary coach Eric Sellick said. “The reason we’ve been so successful is because we’re not one-dimensional and we’ve got depth all over the place.”
Lakewood Ranch had one final chance at a late goal, only to see Yanez’ shot in heavy traffic turned away by DeMarco.
“At the end of the day we have to put the ball in the net,” Bavaro said. “This is nobody’s fault but our own. If you don’t score, you don’t win.”
Lakewood Ranch closes the season with a 20-2-2 record. The game marked the end of the line for seven seniors, some of whom played on the team that reached the state championship game three years ago.
“We’ve got nothing to hang our heads about,” Freeman said. “I think we went further than our expectations were. I’m happy we extended the district championship streak to seven and won our third regional title in the last six years. We really should be happy with our season. It’s been four great years and I’m thankful for the teammates I’ve had.”