Shelby Denkert’s two goals off free kicks paid dividends for Palmetto and a late red card may yet hurt Coral Reef most of all.
Denkert, a junior midfielder, scored twice on set pieces to lead Palmetto to a 3-1 win over Coral Reef Wednesday afternoon at Tropical Park.
The win gave the Panthers (15-4) the District 16-5A title and a regional-quarterfinal match next Wednesday against the loser of Thursday’s game between Lourdes and Ferguson.
Coral Reef, which knocked off GMAC champion South Dade on Monday on a double-overtime goal by Carina Rodriguez, will play the winner of the Lourdes-Ferguson match.
But Coral Reef (10-4-7) will be without Rodriguez, who was issued a red card for kicking a Palmetto player in the last five minutes of Wednesday’s match. The red card means an automatic one-game suspension.
Cudas coach Natasha Lopes said Rodriguez reacted out of frustration.
“She had just gotten kicked in the stomach,” Lopes said. “It had apparently gone on all game long.”
Denkert, who has 14 goals this season, has four of them on free kicks, including the one that opened the scoring on Wednesday. Her swerving kick went over the wall and beat Cudas goalie Monique Salazar to the upper left corner.
Salazar avenged the play early in the second half, scoring on a 40-yard free kick that skidded past Palmetto goalie Marti Stein on one hop.
About 10 minutes prior to her goal, Salazar, who has the strongest leg on the Cudas team, hit the crossbar. Lopes said Salazar has hit a post eight times this season.
Denkert struck again midway through the second half, scoring on a free kick from an extreme angle on the left side. That gave Palmetto a 2-1 lead.
Stein stopped a potent header by Rebecca Fallon to preserve the lead, and Palmetto got a controversial insurance goal by senior Valeria Rico, who was surprised it went in.
“I didn’t think it was a goal,” Rico said of the ball that trickled by the goalie before it was cleared by Cudas defender Casey Pastor.
However, Palmetto coach Lyndsay Segarra said those types of plays can be deceptive to the eyes, depending on your viewing angle.
“I thought it did go in,” Segarra said. “I kept saying, ‘That’s a goal, that’s a goal!’
“Unless you are on the end line, you can never tell from any angle on the field. But my girls played great. They didn’t worry about the refs or the pushing or the kicks. We came out strong and won.”