It didn’t matter what happened seven days earlier. It was all about last Friday night (Jan. 25) for the Miami Springs Golden Hawks girls soccer team.
Taking on Mater Academy in a Region 4-4A semifinal at Traz Powell Stadium, a team they had to watch celebrate on the very same field one week earlier following Mater’s district championship victory, the Lady Hawks came up big when it counted the most.
A breakaway one-on-one goal by junior Ale Salazar in the game’s 26th minute stood up the rest of the way as the Hawks prevailed 1-0 and now advance to their eighth regional final in the last nine years.
And the noise and loud horns around the Circle at 9:30 p.m. on Friday night said it all. Accompanied by a pair of Miami Springs police cruisers with their lights on and sirens wailing, the Springs bus paraded twice around the Circle with a bunch of happy girls inside
Springs will hit the road north up I-95 to take Melbourne on Tuesday night (Jan. 29) in a rematch of last year's regional final played at Tropical Park which Melbourne prevailed 1-0. Tuesday's challenge will be a huge one as the Bulldogs, who knocked off Stuart South Fork 1-0 in their regional semifinal on Saturday night, sport a 22-0-1 record and No. 2 state ranking.
“Our girls definitely came out with a lot more aggression tonight having lost to them last week and it showed up right away,” said Springs coach William Drew who saw his team improve to 17-5-4. “We did a really nice job of passing from point to point and not trying to go over them which is the mistake we made last week. We knew they (Mater) like to play down the middle a lot so we loaded up the middle and forced them to play more outside.”
In the game’s 26th minute, Springs’ Sophia De la Puente knifed a perfect “thru” ball down the middle and Salazar split the defense creating a one-on-one with Mater goalkeeper Julia Sanchez and bottom lefted it into the net.
“Sophie and I have played together for a long time and we read each other’s eyes well and I read her eyes when she sent me the pass,” said Salazar. “Once the ball got through, it was just a matter of getting the keeper to commit and then nailing it.”
“Sometimes you have to get a little lucky and I got a little lucky on that pass,” said De la Puente. “When I hit it, their defender stuck their leg out to block it but the ball took kind of a strange hop and got through to Ale. Once I saw her with the ball I knew she would knock it home.”
Instead of protecting the lead, Springs continued to be aggressive the remainder of the half and probably should’ve led 3-0 as they peppered Sanchez with numerous shots, two that bounced off the crossbar. First Debbie Yance doinked one off and a few minutes later De la Puente let one go that bounced off as well.
Springs continued to press in the beginning of the second half but, despite more quality chances still could not put that all-important “insurance” goal in the net leaving everyone in the Springs camp nervous knowing they should’ve been relaxing with a three or four goal lead and instead were in a dogfight.
Sure enough, the final 20 minutes of the game were tense as the Lions, out of shear desperation more than anything else, finally started to push the ball up on their side of the field and create pressure.
Mater, which finished 24-3-1 and enjoyed its best season in the program’s history winning its first-ever district title and advancing to the regional semis for the first time, pushed and pushed but never really got a real that golden quality chance.
The closest they came might have been in the game’s final minute when Springs was called for a foul and Mater’s Brianna Garcia had a direct kick from the right side about 20 yards out. The ball cleared the outstretched arms of Springs keeper Lianna Guerra and came perilously close to going in but went just to the left of the left post.
“What a great feeling,” said Salazar. “We came close last year but came up short (in the loss to Melbourne) and it’s a lot of work to get to this point so we’re looking forward to making the trip north to wherever we have to go and bring it home.”