LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Lakewood Ranch's girls soccer team in Friday's Class 4A-District 11 championship.
Missing two key midfielders -- Maddison Krstec and Maria Gonzalez -- due to injuries, the Mustangs couldn't control the middle of the park against visiting Venice.
Consequently, the Indians moved the ball around and buried their chances in upsetting the top-seeded Mustangs 4-0.
It was the first defeat of the season for Ranch (19-1-2), which hadn't allowed a goal since Nov. 19.
"The biggest issue that we had was that we were not able to shut them down at center mid," said Mustangs head coach Guy Virgilio, whose team had beaten Venice 2-1 and 3-0 in two previous meetings this season. "The center mid definitely hurt us. They did a great job of winning the balls in the middle."
With the loss, which snapped the Mustangs' streak of five consecutive district championships and featured the most goals allowed in a game this season after surrendering just six in the last 21 matches, Lakewood Ranch travels to Naples Gulf Coast on Jan 22 for the region quarterfinals.
The Sharks claimed the 4A-12 title, 4-0, over Fort Myers to win their first district crown since 2005.
"I told them to just remember the feeling that you have; it doesn't feel good, but what we have to think is going forward," said Virgilio about what he discussed with his team following the loss.
The trouble for the Mustangs on Friday, though, was stopping Emily Dalton.
Prior to the final, she tallied 52 goals and she spearheaded Venice's attack against Ranch. Dalton tallied two goals, completing her brace with roughly 14 minutes remaining in the match.
That goal, which made it 3-0, sealed the triumph for the Indians.
Venice's Alexis Weaver shifted the momentum in the dying seconds of the first half by looping a free kick past Ranch keeper Danielle Wilson's arms.
Buoyed off that 1-0 lead entering the break, Dalton featured in the next two goals to put the game to rest.
First, she zigzagged around a charging Wilson to find an empty net nine minutes into the second period.
Then she capped her scoring night by pounding in a rebound off a long shot that hit the crossbar and fell to her feet a mere 17 minutes later.
"The past times we played them, we kind of figured out how their defense works," Dalton said. "So by the way that they played, we kind of figured them out by the way we played the ball to each other. Through balls, that's how we could get the goals."
In second-half stoppage time, Domonique Torro found an empty net with her header after Wilson mishandled a cross in the box.
The loss doesn't end the Mustangs' season. They still qualified for their 14th straight Florida High School Athletic Association postseason.
But the trek toward a potential third straight Final Four begins on the road.
"I feel confident that if we get the other two girls (back), our goal is to be facing them again at their place," said Virgilio, alluding to a possible rematch in the region semifinals. "That's what I am kind of shooting for. I still think we have the team that is capable of doing that. It was a good lesson for the girls."
Venice outshot Lakewood Ranch 17-13, and had one shot cleared off the line with three more rattling off the post as well as the one off the crossbar that was turned into a goal off a rebound.
The Mustangs, meanwhile, only directed three shots on goal and had two viable chances in the box that didn't find the target.