It was a nice run last week for the Miami Springs girls soccer team as no team in the county will ever apologize for making it to the GMAC championship game.
But, following quality wins over Coral Gables in the quarterfinal and Palmetto in the semifinal, the Lady Hawks came up one goal short last Friday night, Jan. 10 at Milander Stadium when they dropped a 2-1 decision to Ferguson in the championship final.
The loss dropped Springs’ overall record to 18-2-1 with their only two losses coming to the same team. Springs dropped a regular season contest to the Falcons back in November by the same score.
“The score may have been the same both times but we definitely played better soccer tonight for sure,” said Springs head coach William Drew. “Sure we would’ve liked to have taken the GMAC title but the bottom line is you always want to be playing your best soccer at this time of year and I feel we’re pretty much there.”
Things got off to a rocky start for the Lady Hawks when a defensive breakdown gave Ferguson’s Jess Suarez chest-bumped a ball off a corner kick past Springs keeper Brianna Gomez just three minutes into the game to give the Falcons an early 1-0 lead.
But Springs quickly responded. Just three minutes later, sophomore forward Alyssa Deno beat a Ferguson defender down the middle and then made a perfect “dish” pass off to senior captain Ale Salazar who knocked it into the bottom right corner of the net when Ferguson keeper Nicole Rafols overcommitted and came out too early.
“After I beat their defender, I spotted Ale at the very last second and managed to get her the ball,” said Deno. “It was an important goal for us at that moment because we needed to quickly answer the early goal they had gotten off us.”
But even with the game tied 1-1, it was Ferguson that dominated the remainder of the first half as the Falcons controlled the ball on Springs’ side of the field and peppered Gomez the remainder of the half. Twice they just missed goals when Isa Jara missed the bottom left post by inches to the left before Suarez clanked one off the right post a few minutes later and should’ve enjoyed a comfortable lead at halftime.
Ferguson finally got one past Gomez 13 minutes into the second half when Jara got to a loose ball in front of the net that Gomez misplayed and trickled it in to make it 2-1.
Springs, looking for its third-ever GMAC title (2007, 2009) never seriously challenged the net the rest of the way before the whistle blew giving Ferguson its second-ever GMAC title and second in three years.
Not that it would’ve made a difference but, following a nasty collision in front of the net just minutes into the second half, Salazar suffered an upper thigh injury. Even though she remained in the game, it was apparent she was not going at full speed and fairly ineffective.
“I tried to hang in there but it was really bothering me,” said Salazar. “You do what you can in that situation to stay on the field but I just couldn’t go at full speed.”
Salazar had not problem going at full speed three days earlier when she turned in a great effort on a cold, rainy and windy afternoon at Springs High School when the Lady Hawks hosted Coral Gables in the GMAC quarterfinals.
Salazar would turn in a “hat trick” effort by scoring three goals as Springs easily disposed of the 14-2-1 Cavaliers 5-0. Deno and Sofia De La Puente had the other two goals.
Just 24 hours later, in a much tougher contest against Palmetto a GMAC semifinal game at Milander, Salazar scored two more goals, the second with just 10 minutes left in regulation, to give Springs a 2-1 victory and a berth in the GMAC final.
The six goals in one week only drove home the importance of Salazar’s right foot to the Springs cause as it marked goals 30 through 35 on the season for her which is near the county lead.
“I just try to go out there and act like a team captain should,” said Salazar. “A lot of stuff falls on me in terms of leadership and scoring and I don’t mind it a bit. Even though we lost tonight, I still feel like we played better against them than the first time we played them.”
“She’s a special kid because we really do put a lot of responsibility on her,” said Drew of his star player. “From leading the team to scoring goals, that’s what she does and she did it this week.”
With GMACs in the rear view mirror, the focus will now shift to the postseason. Up this week are the district semifinals. An anticipated easy win over No. 4 seed Homestead for the Lady Hawks on Tuesday, Jan. 14 (they defeated Homestead 8-0 in the regular season) would put them into this Thursday’s district championship contest to be played at Traz Powell Stadium at 7 p.m. against the winner of Mater Academy and TERRA who are playing in the other semifinal.
“Now is when it really counts and the time you need to be playing your best soccer,” said Drew. whose team made it to the regional finals in each of the last two seasons.“We feel good about where we’re at and the way we’re playing so hopefully we’ll make another deep run.”