Never mind that No. 4 nationally ranked Boca Raton stepped onto the Cypress Bay field on Friday night as a prohibitive favorite over the Lightning in a Class 5A boys’ soccer state semifinal game.
None of that mattered when it was over because it was the Lightning players celebrating wildly with their fans on the stadium track following their 2-0 upset over the Bobcats at Cypress Bay High School.
And with it, the two-time defending state champions, hit hard last summer when it suffered major losses from last year’s national championship team when a rules change forced top players to choose between high school and year-round club ball, will now have a shot at a three-peat.
The Lightning (18-2-3) will travel to Melbourne High School on Saturday, Feb. 16 to take on Winter Garden West Orange in the Class 5A state championship game at 4 p.m. West Orange knocked off Gainesville Buchholz 2-1 in its semifinal.
“I told the kids before the game that they would have to really rise up to the occasion and leave everything on the field, and that’s what they did out there tonight,” said Cypress Bay coach John Ramos. “It was an incredibly physical, emotional and brutal game, and I left it up to our kids to find a way to get it done.”
On a night where there were plenty of heroes for Cypress Bay, none stood out more than goalkeeper Hector Fernandez. After his team took an early 1-0 lead in the game’s third minute on a Nicolas Guevara goal, the Lightning clung to the lead virtually the rest of the contest, thanks mainly to Fernandez’s numerous saves, many stretched-out dives as Boca peppered him with shots.
“When I saw how hard my teammates were playing out there, I knew I had to do my part, too, and not let them down,” Fernandez said.
After Boca lost a player to a red card in the 70th minute and was forced to play short handed, the Bobcats, trying to push up defenders, eventually left themselves vulnerable. That’s when Cypress’ Miguel Perez broke loose down the right side and knocked one past keeper Brian Kilgallon with six minutes left for an insurance goal.
• Class 3A state semifinal — American Heritage 3, Bradenton Palmetto 1: American Heritage speedy forward Jamar Campion-Hinds scored two early goals, allowing his team to weather a late match pressure from visiting Bradenton Palmetto for a 3-1 victory in Friday’s Class 2A semifinals at Heritage.
Heritage (23-3-2) will vie for a second consecutive state title when it faces Ponte Vedra at Melbourne next Saturday. The Tigers ended their season at 25-2-3.
Campion-Hinds, an FIU signee, scored in the 14th minute on Heritage’s second shot of the match when he took a pass from Christopher Mealer and streaked at least 20 yards to easily beat a defender on his right ring; his shot deflected off goalkeeper Daniel Martinez for the one-goal lead.
Campion-Hinds scored again 23 minutes later off a Palmetto turnover deep in the Tigers’ defensive zone for a 2-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, Palmetto had its first opportunity in the 62nd minute when striker Hunter Brown took a rolling cross from the right wing, but his shot in front of the goal was stopped by a charging Djman Suarez to help preserve the two-goal lead.
• Class 4A state semifinal — Naples Gulf Coast 6, Fort Lauderdale 1: Fort Lauderdale didn’t have any comebacks left as the Flying L’s season ended a game short of the state championship with a loss to Naples Gulf Coast at Dillard in the Class 4A state semifinals.
Gulf Coast never gave Fort Lauderdale a chance. The Sharks scored in the first four minutes on a goal by Carlos Paz from a cross by Clayton Curvin.
Fort Lauderdale tied it at 1 when Ralph Joseph scored with his left foot off a pass from Rodne Michel in the 26th minute.
But it would be all Gulf Coast (18-3-3) the rest of the way. The Sharks will play the Steinbrenner/Forest winner in the Class 4A state championship next Saturday in Melbourne. Fort Lauderdale’s season ended at 17-8-1.
“After all that happened, we gave it everything we had. Hats off to Gulf Coast,” Fort Lauderdale coach Benito Clerveaux said.
Sylvester Szczesniewicz gave the Sharks the lead for good in the 29th minute when he scored on a header on a perfect pass by Owen McCorkle.
Then Curvin scored in the 33rd minute on a pass from Andre De Greef for a 3-1 lead going into the half.
Fort Lauderdale had been in that exact position the past two games; it trailed 3-1 to both American and Martin County before coming back to win in overtime and penalty kicks.
And for a few minutes early in the second half, it looked like the Flying L’s might get back into the game. They were aggressive to start the second half while it appeared the Sharks were becoming more defensive. However, Fort Lauderdale couldn’t get on the board again.
“We can’t continue to kill ourselves like that and then try to come back into the game. My guys know we can’t come from behind like that all the time,” Clerveaux said.
Gulf Coast would come back with a quick counter attack when the Flying L’s would push hard, but only to keep Fort Lauderdale a little defensive. Then the flood gates opened.
Gulf Coast scored in the 68th minute, then again on a free kick in the 73rd minute and finally in the 79th minute.
“Once upon a time I was a small coach trying to make a name for myself and also had a team with something to prove. I think we accomplished that goal. They know who we are now,” Clerveaux said.