High School Sports

Girls soccer | Manatee pounces on Pinellas Park, wins district semifinal 8-0

BRADENTON -- Meredith Roberts doesn't take anything for granted.

It's a mindset that has enabled her to be the leading scorer for the Manatee High girls soccer team.

It also got the Hurricanes off on the right foot in an 8-0 mercy-rule victory over visiting Largo Pinellas Park in a Class 5A-District 8 semifinal game Wednesday night at Hawkins Stadium.

Roberts scored two minutes into the match and, after a goal by Jessica Schafer, added a second goal for a 3-0 lead less than 17 minutes into the match.

"The first goal set the momentum and showed them that we wanted to come out right from the start and get to business," Roberts said. "I passed it down the line to Jessie (Schafer), and she found me as an open player, and I had my foot down and drilled it into the back of the net."

As the top seed, Manatee (12-1-2) didn't figure to have much problem with Pinellas Park (1-12-2), but Roberts wasn't taking any chances.

"I don't think we go into any match too confident. Our coach tells us you've got to play every game like it's your last," Roberts said.

The Hurricanes can win their second straight district championship at home against St. Petersburg on Friday night, which would signify the program is moving in the right direction after a long drought. Last year's championship was the first under George Ameres, who is in his sixth year as the head coach.

"It's was a long time (between district titles)," Ameres said. "This program is thriving right now. It's probably as strong as it has ever been, and I am very satisfied and excited about where we are. We continue to grow and continue to improve."

The Hurricanes scored three more goals before intermission to take a 6-0 halftime lead. Brianna Blethen scored back-to-back goals. The second one came with 1:43 remaining before the break, and Katie Gabbard scored 24 seconds later.

"The reason for our success is that we are talented, and we are talented because a lot of our girls play club soccer and play on the number two team in the state in the Braden River Rage," Ameres said. "I am fortunate enough to coach those girls at the club level as well. They are a good group. They are all on the same page, and they've had an opportunity to play as a unit outside of high school."

During the regular season, Manatee finished 5-0-1 in the district and outscored its opponents 29-6 in district play.

"Meredith is our leading scorer. She has phenomenal speed, so she is very good at breaking down the defenders and finding the space and getting herself into position. And she is very gifted," Ameres said. "I don't want to give her all the credit for scoring. She has players around her in Jessica (Schafer), who is our leader in assists, and she has Katie Christenson and Sydney Cornell. All those girls put Meredith in very good positions and help her to succeed."

Tyler Einsmann and Christenson also scored second-half goals for Manatee, ending the game with about 19 minutes remaining on the clock. Roberts had a pair of assists, and Schafer and Kyra Himes had single assists.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald