High School Sports

Common goal

BRADENTON - They're eternal archrivals, perched on different ends of the county, and they entered the Class 5A-District 12 boys soccer tournament perched on opposite ends of the bracket.

They'll be sharing the same field Friday night with a championship in the balance. And it was two different victories that got them there.

Top-seeded Southeast and second-seeded Manatee were winners during a rainy Wednesday night at John Kiker Memorial Stadium, meaning the two will reunite at 7 p.m. Friday in the finals.

The Seminoles (13-7-1) dominated Port Charlotte, dumping the Pirates 5-1 in the first semifinal. Roughly two hours later, with the relentless storm at its zenith, Manatee (16-6-2) packed two goals into the game's final 10 minutes to get by Lakewood Ranch 3-2.

What both teams did have in common was a penchant for pouncing quickly. Southeast, which squandered a number of early chances during Monday's quarterfinal win over North Port, was opportunistic from the opening. The Noles were flashier, too, with their first goal coming when Francisco Hilerio headed in Fernando Hernandez's looping cross pass.

The memorable tally ignited a run in which Southeast netted four goals in a span of roughly 18 minutes. Two came from Sean Moreau, while the other came from his older brother, P.J.

"Everyone up front is working good, the midfield is clicking," Sean Moreau said, "and the defense is holding strong."

P.J. Moreau, who assisted his brother's first goal, capped Southeast's scoring inside of the first five minutes of the second half, sending the Seminoles back to the district finals for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

"They mean business. They want to do good for the seniors, the seniors want to do good for the rest of team," said Southeast Laszlo Halmi, who will be shooting for his first district title at Southeast, "it's a whole team effort. All these boys are absolutely fantastic."

So was the second semifinal. The Mustangs (12-8-4) took a 2-1 lead on Ethan Mason's goal midway through the second half - a lead Lakewood Ranch looked locked into before Manatee's Alex Torres was pulled down in the goal box, leading to penalty kick.

Christian Raudales, whose first-half header tied the game at 1, brought the Canes even again when he converted the kick with approximately nine minutes remaining. Minutes later, Alan Ponce took a pass from Rolino Alexis and, from about 20 yards out, curled the game-winner inside the right post.

"This was the probably the most exciting game I've ever played in," said Manatee senior goalkeeper Robert Highley, whose five first-half saves, one of which came on Russell Lanier's penalty kick, kept Manatee alive. "I gave up a (bad) goal in the beginning, then my team helped me out, and I helped them out. . . . Everybody helped each other."

The Hurricanes will now get a chance to defend their title against their most heated and longtime foes, the same ones who beat Manatee 2-1 during the regular season.


Southeast 5,

Port Charlotte 1

Manatee 3,

Lakewood Ranch 2


Palmetto 1,

Arcadia DeSoto 0