BRADENTON -- Manatee came into its Class 5A-Region 2 girls soccer match as a district champion, but head coach George Ameres knew his girls could be in for their toughest game of the season.
Their opponent, Tarpon Springs East Lake, brought a 17-2 record into Hawkins Stadium with its only losses coming to perennial power Palm Harbor University, which ranks third overall with five girls soccer state titles.
"They play some pretty good soccer in their district," Ameres said.
Unfortunately, the coach was right to be wary. East Lake dominated play from the outset and went home with a 3-1 victory.
"We couldn't get the ball to our playmakers. They are very solid in the middle and didn't give us much time on the ball when we were trying to possess it and knock it around," Ameres said. "That is a great district over there, and it was proven tonight. I feel like we are on an even level with that team, but they are solid and we had our hands full."
Kristin Kelly scored the first two goals for East Lake, the second one coming less than two minutes before halftime. One minute into the second half, the Eagles added another to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
To their credit, the Hurricanes never stopped fight
ing. Ameres made some adjustments to move his people upfield.
Meredith Roberts, who had been a standout in the district tournament, got the goal with 13 minutes left in the contest. She and her teammates missed a few other scoring opportunities.
"It was very tough to score against them. They are very well-organized and very defensive-minded and played a great game," Roberts said. "We tried to maneuver through them, but it was tough. I think they came out with more intensity than us, but we picked it up in the second half. I am very proud of what our team did this season. We had a good run and improved upon last year."
After going 15 years without a district title, the Manatee girls won their second straight crown this season and finished with a 14-2-3 record despite being hit with some key injuries and having only two seniors on the squad.
"I am excited. The future looks bright," Ameres said. "We lose two good players (Lindsey Gould and Becca Byrnes), but we are going to get likes of Kylie Ameres, my daughter, who has been out with an ACL tear, which was a big loss for us defensively."
Palm Harbor came into the match allowing only 0.5 goals per game while scoring 3.1. Manatee allowed 1.3 goals and averaged 4.4 goals.
The Canes pulled out all stops in this game, especially in the second half, but couldn't come back after that 3-0 deficit.
"We ended up going into a 3-3-4 formation were we put four strikers on our attacking line," Ameres said. "We threw everything at them in the last half. We were in desperation mode, to say the least. But this program is turning around. We've won two straight district titles and looking to do more."