BRADENTON - Rather than a championship, Saint Stephen's girls soccer team was playing for its season Thursday afternoon.
Consequently, with time on the line rather than a title, there were some nerves.
Then Alyssa Allen found the back of the net. And all the jitters - but none of the effort - dissipated, allowing the Falcons to live on.
Saint Stephen's defeated Bradenton Christian 4-0 during the semifinals of the Class 2A-District 11 girls tournament at Turner Fields, clinching a berth in next week's regional playoffs and today's championship game. The second-seeded Falcons (14-5-2) will face No. 1 Sarasota Christian - a 3-0 winner over Out-of-Door Academy on Thursday - at 3:30 p.m. at Turner Fields.
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"This week, we've been drilling in to them how important this game is," Saint Stephen's coach Bill Unzicker said. "This game, really, mentally is more grinding than (today's) game. You lose (Thursday), you don't even get in (to the regional tournament)."
Allen's goal, which came roughly 13 minutes before halftime and snapped a scoreless tie, seemed to shake the Falcons loose. Allen scored again less than 10 minutes after halftime - two minutes before Michelle Beach's kick landed in the back of the net from about 15 yards out.
"I think everyone, including myself, was starting off a little slow," Beach, a sophomore, said. "At halftime, we kind of got re-energized and were like, 'We need to win this . . . especially for our seniors.' I know I want to make this season as best for our seniors, because this is their last season, and any game could be their last game."
Unzicker's mantra: Play in the moment. The Falcons may be back in the regional playoffs for the second time in as many years.
But nothing is guaranteed for next season.
"You've got to live for the here and now, because next year might not happen," Unzicker said. "So the seniors, we've got to step up, and juniors, you've got to play like you're seniors. . . . I think they realized that, and it motivated them to step up and play."
Bradenton Christian finished its first season of district play 13-7-1, and while Thursday's result wasn't what coach Butch Morley was after, he was happy with the season overall.
"We are just thrilled with the year," Morley said. "We are just thrilled with the way these ladies have come out and played. We have a lot of kids here who have hardly played any soccer . . . and they've come a long way."
Sarasota Christian 3,
Out-of-Door Academy 0
The Thunder fell to the top-seeded Blazers during Thursday's other semifinal at Turner Fields.
"I'm very happy. We've grown so much," ODA coach Rebecca Schopfer said. "This was a great ending. And to play the No. 1 team in the district and to lose only 3-0 . . . was really good for us."
With starting goalie Martha Moreo nursing an injury, ODA (4-15-1) went to Rachel Cannon, who made 20 saves and kept the game scoreless at halftime.
Sarasota Christian (15-0-3), however, rallied to advance to today's title game against Saint Stephen's. It will be a rematch of last year's final, which the Falcons won 2-0.
Saint Stephen's Cassidy Whidden dribbles past Chelsea Putnam.