MELBOURNE -- Gulliver’s girls’ soccer team figured out how to overcome plenty of obstacles this season.
Despite injuries piling up throughout the playoffs and having to shift lineups nearly every match, the Raiders stayed undefeated and appeared on course to winning a second state title in three years.
That changed Friday night when Gulliver couldn’t find an answer for Ocala Trinity Catholic and its senior striker Tabitha Tindell.
Led by Tindell’s three goals, the Celtics poured an offensive onslaught on the Gulliver goal and dealt the Raiders a 4-1 defeat in the Class 2A state championship match at Melbourne High School.
Gulliver (21-1-4) fell one victory shy of what would have been its second state title in the past three seasons. Ocala Trinity Catholic (20-2) secured its first championship.
The Raiders lost their first match since last season’s regional final against American Heritage-Delray.
“To get where we did, if you look at our team at the start of the season to where we are now, is brilliant,” Gulliver coach Everton Edwards said. “This is a defeat, but we need to look at it as a learning experience.”
Trinity Catholic outshot Gulliver 19-4 for the match, including a staggering 13-2 in the second half.
Tindell, a Florida Gulf Coast University signee, finished the season with 52 goals and had her fourth three-goal game in the regional playoffs. Tindell and junior forward Alyssa Eashoo benefited from solid midfield play by Briana Camargo and Abigail Camargo.
Edwards said Gulliver, which has dealt with injuries to key players throughout the playoffs, had two of its top midfielders Kai-Lin Hernandez (hip flexor) and Samantha Lujan (back) still playing despite pain.
Edwards credited his team’s resilience once again as Gulliver had to shift its lineup several times in recent weeks as key starters such as Khara Vassell (out for the season with a knee injury), Samantha Earle and Natalia Verde all missed games. The Raiders were down to 12 players for their state semifinal win against Palm Beach Benjamin a week ago.
That, coupled with a young starting defensive line comprised of three freshmen and one sophomore, gave the Celtics an advantage.
“I’ve never been kept so busy in goal in a high school game, that’s for sure,” Gulliver goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo said. “They just kept coming, and [Tindell] is really tough. She’s so skillful and always knows where the goal is at when she has the ball.”
Trujillo, a San Diego State signee, made eight saves, plenty of which took athleticism to make as the Celtics pressured on the Gulliver half of the field for most of the first half with Tindell and Eashoo firing several shots on target.
Trujillo was up to the challenge until one misplay on a seemingly easier save started the scoring for the Celtics.
Trujillo appeared to control a head-on shot by Tindell from about 20 yards away. The ball slipped out of her grasp and rolled under her body as Trujillo fell forward. Trujillo couldn’t stop the ball before it rolled past the goal line with 33:28 left in the second half.
“The field was wet, and I had trouble gripping the ball,” Trujillo said.
Although the mistake appeared costly at first, it was clear from Trinity Catholic’s constant pressure that its scoring barrage was just beginning.
After a diving save by Trujillo denied Tindell a goal, Abigail Camargo controlled the loose ball and then placed a perfect arching shot just under the crossbar for the second goal.
Gulliver senior Madeline Intriago cut the deficit to 2-1, receiving a through ball on a downfield sprint. Intriago fired a shot past Celtics’ keeper Taylor Mosley to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 16:37 remaining.
But Trinity Catholic’s attack never let up.
Tindell added another off a rebound with 10 minutes left to put the Celtics back up by two goals. Tindell put away the match with another goal in the 69th minute on a shot that Trujillo deflected but could not prevent from bouncing into the corner of the goal.
“This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us, but we proved a lot of people wrong,” Intriago said. “We can’t get the words out now because it hurts. But we’ll tell our younger players to keep their heads up because they have time to grow.”
Added Hernandez: “Things can only go up from here.”