MELBOURNE -- It wasn’t the kick Gulliver’s boys’ soccer team was looking for.
But it ended up resulting in a fatal wound to the Raiders’ state championship hopes.
Gulliver junior midfielder Jesus Bolivar received a red card in the first half of Friday night’s Class 2A state final against Jacksonville Bolles, forcing the Raiders to play short-handed for the final 56 minutes of the match.
The Raiders defense held its own until the 54th minute, when midfielder Suneel Mudaliar put a shot past Gulliver goalkeeper Esteban Sapetnitzky, dealing the Raiders a 1-0 loss at Melbourne High.
“I think we started out a little bit nervous, and then we got a red card,” Gulliver coach Matias Asorey said. “We were trying to make adjustments. I was pleased with the way we played in the second half. I think we were a little bit unlucky, and as much as the referee might have made a call, we didn’t finish our chances.”
Bolivar’s red card came with 16:40 remaining in the first half. Bolivar was knocked to the ground by Bolles midfielder Adam Stenson. But as he was falling, Bolivar swung his legs upward, appearing to kick Stenson in the stomach. The referee spoke to Bolivar briefly before pulling the red card from his pocket.
“I didn’t get an explanation for the call,” Asorey said. “We had 80 minutes to get it done, but a bad call went [against us]. We didn’t finish our chances, and that’s the way this game is.”
After several good chances, Bolles finally cashed in with 26:39 remaining in the second half on a goal set up off a corner kick that was passed into the area in front of Gulliver’s goal by Bolles midfielder Jay Bolt.
Stenson ran past the ball, faking a shot, and senior forward Adam Demetree instead backed up the play and fired a shot on goal. Sapetnitzky made a diving stop to his right but left a rebound in front of him. Mudaliar was trailing the play and kicked it past Sapetnitzky for the score.
“The referee had to make a decision, and they can make harsh decisions in a game, but as a team we had to respond to it and we didn’t,” Gulliver senior forward Bryan Ruiz-Unger said.
Ruiz-Unger had a free kick from 35 yards away with 7:30 left in the match that was caught by Brian DiLoreto before anyone could redirect.
Ruiz-Unger, the team’s lone senior starter, had a team-high 15 goals this season, including five in the playoffs.
“We only had one senior, so I was proud of the way we got here,” Ruiz-Unger said. “It’s tough to take in, but it was a good experience.”
Gulliver (19-3-3), which made it to the state final for the first time since 2006, fell a win short of what would have been its fifth state championship. Bolles (26-3), a 17-time state semifinalist, won its second state championship and first since 2009.
Despite being one player down, Gulliver created some good opportunities, including a chance in the final minute that nearly tied the match. Sophomore forward Andy Alvarez crossed the ball in front of the goal away from DiLoreto. Gulliver junior Lou Diego was the closest but was unable to get a foot on the ball.
In the first half, Gulliver almost scored off a corner kick when junior Patricio Hernandez kicked a rebound right on goal in traffic. DiLoreto stopped it though.
“With a man down against a team with 14 seniors, I thought the team responded pretty well, and it’s a good indication of where the program is headed,” Asorey said. “We were unfortunate this year, but maybe we will be back again next year. I’m proud of what the guys did.”