Driven all season long by the tragic and unexpected loss of a teammate five months ago, the Cypress Bay boys’ soccer team found a way to finish things off the way they wanted to finish.
And the way Max would’ve wanted them to finish.
The Lightning, on the strength of an early David Corredor goal in the game’s seventh minute, made it stand up the entire way as Cypress Bay knocked off Bradenton Lakewood Ranch 1-0 in the Class 5A state championship game at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
The championship was the fifth for Cypress Bay (23-1-2), all coming in the last seven years but, because of the circumstances this season, this one was perhaps sweeter and more emotional than the previous four.
When Max Cardenas, an incoming senior co-captain died in September following a bad fall from a skateboarding accident, suddenly the 2016-17 season took on new meaning for Lightning players who dedicated every game to his memory.
“On the way here, we really felt that Max was with us. It’s like his presence was insane,” said senior Willie Fierro, who put some individual pressure on himself when he changed his jersey number to Cardenas’ number 12 at the start of the season. “I don’t think it put extra pressure on myself [deciding to wear number 12]. We just took the pressure on all of us together as a team. We all had one goal. Do it for Max, and we just went for it.”
Perhaps the best example one can take of the team’s determination was the fact that Cypress Bay won all five playoff games by one goal — including a 2-1 win over Miami Beach in the regional final in which they scored twice in the last 14 minutes to keep their season going.
“The kids dedicated this season to Max’s memory and I really did see some changes to them during the season,” said third-year Cypress Bay head coach Colin Ilgner. “We wound up in a lot of tough grind-it-out games which is not usually our strength. The fact that we won every game in the playoffs by one goal speaks to a bunch of determined find-a-way-to-get-done group of kids.”
The game’s lone goal came off a throw-in from Cole Sanfilippo, who dumped it down low and when Lakewood Ranch keeper Ryan Freeman came out for it, he couldn’t handle it.
With a loose ball in front of the net, Corredor reached out with his right foot and popped it high in the air over Freeman’s head into the goal.
“I saw the rebound come out and just said, ‘I’m gonna shoot it,’ ” Corredor said. “We had noticed that their keeper kept coming out from the net and when I saw the ball and realized he was right in front of me, I knew I couldn’t blast it. So I just took my right foot and popped it up over his head and in it went. This is the greatest feeling in the world because we dedicated this season to our fallen brother, Max, and we told him we were going to do it for him.”
Already with the one-goal lead, things got even better for the Lightning when, just before the first half water break, Lakewood Ranch’s Ricky Yanez picked a bad time to fist up and throw a punch at Mateo Pieschacon as it bought him a red card ejection and forced the Mustangs (20-3-1) to play the remainder of the game a man short.
Despite being a man down, Lakewood Ranch spent the entire second half applying a ton of pressure on the Lightning defense and keeper Sebastian Deckers.
The last and perhaps best chance for Lakewood came with just three minutes left when Tyler Puhalovich broke free down the right side and had a clean shot at the net when Deckers overcommitted to the left. But the shot missed the left post by inches.
“[Lakewood Ranch] really brought the heat for sure,” Deckers said. “You could tell, even a man down with the pace of the game that they really wanted it and if a team really wants it, they’re going to come at you with everything they’ve got. When the game is hot like that, anything can happen, but I didn’t mind one bit. When it comes down to a close one goal game, I want it all on me.”