EAGLES 4 INDIANS 3
By Eric Horchy | Suncoast NewsEAST LAKE - Sure, a 4-1 final might have looked a bit nicer, but scoring style points doesn’t mean a whole lot at this juncture.
Published: January 30, 2013
Published: January 30, 2013
What truly matter is that East Lake (23-4-0) is moving on to the Class 5A state semifinals after taking care of previously unbeaten Vero Beach on Tuesday, 4-3.
It’s the second time in school history that an Eagles team will advance to the tournament’s penultimate round. The 2007-08 squad also reached the final four before losing in overtime to Lakeland George Jenkins, 4-3.
Despite Tuesday’s one-goal differential, the Eagles were the dominant team throughout much of the night. East Lake never trailed and twice went ahead by a three-goal margin, at 3-0 and then 4-1.
"Yeah, we like to make it close," said senior Madison Del Duca, taking a moment to joke about having to fend off Vero Beach’s late comeback bid before speaking of the risk that comes with easing up in the postseason.
"Like coach said, we can’t get comfortable because these teams are out here for a reason. They’re good teams and we can’t ever take our foot off the gas. We have to keep going."
Things were humming along so well for much of Tuesday night that Eagles coach Sergei Stopek said the entire bench – from players to coaches – was a little guilty of feeling prematurely at ease.
When senior Brooke Cicero booted home another Eagles goal to go up 4-1, East Lake simply appeared to be playing at a higher level. Soon the final 20-plus minutes would expire and thoughts could turn to Friday’s final-four match.
"It’s one of those things where this is high school soccer and we’ve got to play until the final whistle," said Stopek. "That being said, it’s 4-3 and we’re moving onto the state semifinals.
"Maybe it’s a good thing going into the final four. I think we all got a little comfortable and you can’t ever get comfortable in these games."
It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that Vero Beach (21-1-0) made its move.
First there was sophomore Alana Hockenhull’s 70th-minute sliding goal after getting a step on an East Lake defender.
Now down 4-2, Vero Beach took advantage of a controversial call inside East Lake’s penalty area. Eagles keeper Ashleigh Linse raced from the goal box and broke up an attack, but she was subsequently whistled for her action and shown a yellow card.
Stopek called out from the sideline, noting that Linse played the ball before contact with the Indians player. The official ruled that, following the save, she then obstructed the attacker’s ability to play the rebound.
Vero Beach seized the moment when Hockenhull converted the PK with Kelly substituting in net because Linse’s yellow card warranted a brief exit.
The Indians’ opening goal also came on a penalty kick. Freshman Jordan Evens snuck that score inside the right post during the 55th minute.
East Lake watched as its once-dominant advantage shrunk to a single goal with a long six minutes remaining. But rather than succumb to nerves, the Eagles regained their focus to salt away win No. 23 on the year.
East Lake will now get to host Friday night’s final-four match at 7 against Oviedo High. The Lions qualified for the state semis by beating Neptune Beach Duncan U. Fletcher, 3-1. Oviedo entered the postseason as the District 5A-3 runner-up and own a 15-7-3 overall record, according to MaxPreps.com.
"This is crazy," Del Duca said of finally getting to the final four. "I’ve always wanted to, but now as a senior and this being my last year; it’s crazy that there are only two more games left, potentially."
"The fact that we can actually host this game, that’s incredible," Stopek said. State semifinal and final matches had been played at a neutral site up until a change last year. "It’s going to be an electrifying night."
East Lake began building its cushy lead less than 17 minutes in, when Megan Kelly buried a penalty kick awarded because of a Vero Beach hand ball. The goal now gives Kelly one in each of the Eagles’ first three playoff games.
As East Lake slowly began taking control of the game’s tempo, Emily Cady doubled its lead in the 36th minute. The freshman chipped a ball from the left that fell perfectly over keeper Nikki Illare and inside the far post.
The advantage ballooned to 3-0 less than two minutes into the second half when Del Duca showed off why she’s undoubtedly one of the area’s top players.
The senior beat an initial defender on a 15-yard run toward the top of the 18, cut inside the penalty area, deftly danced around two more Indians and smoothly struck a low shot that beat Illare.
"I had the ball and I saw one girl I had to beat," Del Duca said of the goal, her 32nd of the season. "I beat her and I was looking off and didn’t see anyone, so I just decided to go for it."
It all seemed to come together in one fluid motion that Stopek said is the type of play he’s marveled at all season long.
"I’ve seen some great things out of her. You can’t coach that. Wherever she’s getting it, it’s just having a feel for it."
Vero Beach - 0 - 3 --- 3
East Lake - 2 - 2 --- 4