PALMETTO - They gathered in the northeast corner of the field. Braden River's boys soccer team was dejected. The players listened quietly as coach Braden Chandler gave his last postgame speech of the season, and when he was finished, the team's rallying huddle was half-hearted.
All the signs of a team that let a crucial game slip away.
"It's really hard because we didn't play that good in the first half," said Javier Yalta, following his team's 2-1 loss to Sebring High in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A-District 10 soccer tournament at Palmetto High.
"I guess we played better in the second half. We are just going to work hard for next year."
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A steady drizzle began in the game's 30th minute, then quickly turned into a heavy downpour that lasted the remainder of the match.
The teams were tied 1-1 heading into the 73rd minute and looked to be playing for overtime. Attempting to clear the ball from in front of the net, a Pirates player slipped on the soggy field. That mishap gave Sebring's Daniel Grimaldo an open look at the goal. He scored from about 4 yards out.
"We got a little lucky on that goal," said Sebring coach Paul Brown, whose team improved to 6-11-5. "We deserved it. We played hard. It was anybody's game."
In the 43rd minute, Sebring struck first, when Austin Brady fired a direct kick from about 40 yards away, and the ball scooted under the outreached arms of Braden River's goalkeeper.
Yalta put the Pirates (4-13) on the board three minutes later, kicking a midair header from Chase McCarthy into the upper left corner of the net.
"When the ball was in the air, I was thinking just score," Yalta said.
In the first half, Sebring limited Braden River to only two shots on goal. Chandler credited Sebring's defensive strategy.
"They had very fast midfielders, and they double-teamed (Yalta)," Chandler said. "In the second half, it was totally different. We played as a team, and we made crisp passes. We just didn't get the win."
With no seniors on this year's roster, the Pirates will learn from this experience, particularly with everyone back next season. That's why Chandler was encouraged by Monday night's effort.
"We played with effort," he said, "and that's a confidence booster going into next year."