LAKEWOOD RANCH - Brittany Bakker's not big on the rah-rah speeches. She'll typically talk to her Lakewood Ranch High teammates one-on-one if she needs to say something of value.
But Wednesday, with the Mustangs down two goals to Port Charlotte at halftime, Bakker implored her teammates to work harder and play smarter. She and three other seniors didn't want their high school careers to end earlier than expected.
"I just wasn't ready to lose," Bakker said. "It's my senior year, and I want that fourth district title. We'd come back before, and we came back because we wanted it, and we wanted this. I knew we could do it, and they proved it."
After allowing another goal early in the second half, what Bakker told the girls started to sink in. With 28 minutes left and a three-goal deficit, the Mustangs finally started to play with aggression and urgency.
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By winning the loose balls and making the extra pass, in the span of nine minutes, Lakewood Ranch had the lead. Melissa Miller scored the eventual game-winning goal with 20 minutes left in the game to cap a furious rally that saved the Mustangs' season and sent them to the Class 5A-District 12 finals.
"I was pretty worried actually," said Miller, thinking back to the three-goal deficit. "But I know our team is better than that, and we overcame it. It was great because as the game was ending, our team was lined up on the sideline, and I was just amazed. I hope we get this excited for every game."
Lakewood Ranch (15-5-2) will play crosstown rival Manatee, who easily defeated Venice 5-1 in the nightcap.
"These girls matured quite a bit (Wednesday)," said Lakewood Ranch coach Guy Virgilio.
The second game seemed almost anticlimactic after Lakewood Ranch's second-half theatrics. With the Mustangs down 3-0, Lindsay Thompson scored her first goal in the 62nd minute and added her second less than 3 minutes later on an assist from Miller.
Manatee 5, Venice 1
Lexi Braxton and Emily Argeros each scored two goals for the Canes, but coach Kevin Cassidy felt the game was won at the midfield. He pointed to the efforts of Chrissy Rice and Ali Thomas as on of the primary reasons the earned another shot at their nemesis.
"Ali dominated the middle," said Cassidy of his junior, who scored the team's final goal. "It's not always about who scores the goals . . . a lot of what goes on that doesn't show up on a stat sheet is what wins soccer games."
Manatee (13-6) hasn't beaten Lakewood Ranch in four years, but the Canes get another chance Friday.
CLASS 5A-DISTRICT 12
At Lakewood Ranch
Lakewood Ranch 4,
Port Charlotte 3
Manatee 5, Venice 1
CLASS 2A-DISTRICT 11
At Saint Stephen's
Saint Stephen's vs.
Bradenton Christian, 1 p.m.
Sarasota Christian vs. Out-of-Door Academy 3:30 p.m.
CLASS 4A-DISTRICT 10
At Braden River
Palmetto vs. Sebring, 5 p.m.
Braden River vs. Avon Park, 7:30 p.m.
CLASS 3A-DISTRICT 10 FINAL
At Fort Myers Bishop Verot
Cardinal Mooney vs.
Bishop Verot, 7 p.m.