Gulliver senior Nicole Harris watched as the potential game-tying shot from American Heritage Boca/Delray senior Sarah Coy hit the crossbar, quickly cleared by a defender with nine minutes remaining.
“My heart dropped, to be honest,” said Harris, who stood 30 yards away from the play.
Senior Madeleine Intriago tacked on an additional score five minutes later for the Raiders, who beat the Stallions 4-2 in the Class 2A regional final Tuesday night in Delray Beach.
Gulliver (20-0-4) won the Class 3A state championship in 2011 for the program’s first title but moved down a classification and lost to American Heritage 5-1 in the regional final last year.
On Tuesday, the Raiders quickly took a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute off junior Samantha Lujan’s tap over the goalkeeper on senior Kai-Lin Hernandez’s long throw-in.
The Stallions (22-1-1), the reigning three-time state champion, evened the score in the 12th minute when Coy dribbled to the top of the box, and her strike went just past the diving goalkeeper.
Harris’ strike from 30 yards out with her left foot found the top-left corner of the net, recapturing the lead for the Raiders in the 29th minute.
Lujan’s second goal — from 40 yards out on another assist from Hernandez — turned out to be the game-winner with 19 minutes to go when junior Hannah Coy’s rebound with 13:45 left cut the deficit to 3-2.
“I’ve been working all year for this game because after last year we were heartbroken because we really wanted to go to state after coming off a state championship.” Lujan said.
Of that team, just two girls returned. The Raiders will host either St. Petersburg Catholic or North Palm Beach Benjamin on Friday night in the state semifinal.
Christina de Nicola
• Region 4-4A final — Melbourne 4, Miami Springs 0: Miami Springs made the three-hour trip north to Melbourne for its Class 4A regional final contest against host Melbourne High School at Tom McIntyre Stadium, knowing the odds were stacked against it.
The Bulldogs, a decorated program with multiple state titles — including back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 — sporting a 22-0-1 record and stacked with eight Olympic Development players, demonstrated why they were a prohibitive favorite by dominating all night long and cruising past the Golden Hawks.
Melbourne advances to the 4A state semifinal on Friday and will host either Bradenton Lakewood Ranch or Plant City while Springs closed out its season at 17-6-4.
Perhaps hoping to get a little mojo from playing in the same stadium they won their only state title in 25 years ago to the month, it never happened for Springs as Melbourne, with superior ball-handling and blinding speed from its forwards, ran the show from the opening whistle.
“They’re [Melbourne], just a great soccer team and to make matters worse, we didn’t come out with very much energy and it showed early on,” Springs coach William Drew said. “We tried to drop some players back and keep things close in order to offset their speed, but once they got up quick on us, things just snowballed from there.”
The first goal came eight minutes into the game to give Melbourne a quick lead when Kiera McCarthy, whose apparent goal just three minutes earlier had been disallowed by an offsides call, knocked one past Springs goalkeeper Lianna Guerra. Guerra was peppered throughout the first half by numerous scoring chances for the Bulldogs before they finally made it 2-0 in the 34th minute on a Hannah DeBose goal from the right side.