High School Sports

Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team looks to even the score against Venice

The last time the Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team had a home game; three streaks came to a screeching halt.

There was the five consecutive district championship streak that ended, a 21-match unbeaten streak this season that was snapped and the first goals allowed since November -- a stretch of 58 days.

But one streak survived that 4-0 defeat on Jan. 16 at the hands of Venice, and that streak was the Mustangs recording a 15th-straight trip to the Florida High School Athletic Association's postseason, albeit as a district runner-up.

"I can honestly say they were the better team," said Lakewood Ranch head coach Guy Virgilio following his team's district final loss to Venice.

Lakewood Ranch, though, gets its chance to exact revenge for the club's lone blemish this season.

The Mustangs and Indians square off in Tuesday's Class 4A-Region 3 semifinal in Venice.

Lakewood Ranch defeated Venice twice in the regular season to earn the top seed in the tournament. But the Indians pounded the Mustangs in the middle of the park, and Venice's dangerous forward, Emily Dalton, found her 53rd and 54th goals on the season in that district championship.

Ranch was without center midfielders Maria Gonzalez and Maddison Krstec, who were nursing injuries.

That void was felt as Venice controlled the game's flow.

"The biggest issue that we had was that we were not able to shut them down at center mid," said Virgilio after the game. "The center mid definitely hurt us. They did a great job of winning the balls in the middle."

Krstec returned for last Thursday's region quarterfinal, and bagged both goals in a 2-1 victory over Naples Gulf Coast.

The Mustangs defeated Gulf Coast last season en route to the program's second consecutive state final four appearance. It was the first time in program history that they qualified for the state semifinals in two straight seasons.

Virgilio pointed to the loss on his team's home pitch against Venice as a good learning lesson and that he expected a rematch with the Indians.

That rematch was made possible when Venice edged Fort Myers 3-2. Dalton was the key again, tallying two more goals to run her season total to 56.

Alexis Weaver, who jump-started the Indians upset of the Mustangs on Jan. 16 with a looping free kick goal in first-half stoppage time, also bagged a goal for the Indians.

Both players make Venice's attack tick, and the Mustangs -- led by senior co-captains Maria Miller and Tatum Young -- are sure to take notice Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs aren't only area team in action in the region semifinals.

Down in Class 2A, Cardinal Mooney battles Fort Myers Bishop Verot. The two Catholic school rivals met last season with the Vikings reeling off a 6-1 victory on the road. This year's battle takes place in Fort Myers. The Vikings, which made the state semifinals last season in 2A, are as potent as ever, having outscored three postseason opponents by a 16-0 margin.

Mooney (15-3-0) blanked Cape Coral Oasis, 6-0, in its region quarterfinal to set up Tuesday's match with Verot.

Both the Mooney-Verot and Ranch-Venice matches kick off at 7 p.m.

If either win, then they'll return Friday for a 7 p.m. region final. The Mustangs would get the winner of Plant City and Gibsonton East Bay, while the Cougars would play the winner of St. Petersburg Catholic and Tampa Berkeley Prep.