Nina Fernandez went to the state final four with Gulliver’s girls’ soccer team as an eighth-grader.
Fernandez, now a junior, said it feels like it has been forever since that trip.
On Friday, she and the Raiders gave their fans a reminder of what a state final four team looks like.
Fernandez recorded the shutout and stopped two shots in the penalty kick shootout round, setting up junior Monica Zabian’s game-winner that helped host Gulliver outlast Pine Crest in the Region 4-2A final.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Fernandez said. “Those were some tough saves to make. You just have to pick a side and go. I knew Monica would make hers; I had full confidence in her.”
Gulliver (18-2-1) secured a 4-3 win in the shootout round following a scoreless draw through regulation and the two golden-goal overtime periods to advance to the Class 2A state semifinals for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Gulliver won its lone state championship during an undefeated season in 2010-2011. Pine Crest (19-2-2) fell short of what would have been its first trip to state.
The Raiders will play Orlando Bishop Moore on Tuesday at either 4 or 6:30 p.m. in the state semifinal round at Melbourne High School.
“No words can describe how nerve-racking the penalty kicks can be,” Gulliver coach Andrew Vassell said. “We don’t even really practice them, but I have faith in our girls and they deserve this.”
After Pine Crest had taken their fifth shot, a score by Eva Spyredes, it was Zabian’s chance against Panthers’ goalkeeper Sophia Danielsen to win the match.
Zabian placed it perfectly to her left setting off the wild celebration.
“The discipline of these girls showed [Friday], and this is an outstanding very strong group,” Vassell said. “Monica is outstanding and has a bright future ahead of her.”
Danielsen blocked Gulliver’s first penalty kick, giving Pine Crest a brief 1-0 lead in the shootout. But Fernandez answered with a save of her own to even the score. Her save on Pine Crest’s fourth shot turned the tide in Gulliver’s favor. Katrina Pardo, Jenna Griffiths and Carina Rodriguez each made penalty shots for Gulliver.
Both Pine Crest and Gulliver put together thrilling scoring chances in overtime that nearly ended the game before the shootout round.
A couple of times the Panthers put the ball in front of Fernandez in traffic and nearly found the back of the net. But Gulliver’s defenders maintained their poise and assisted their net-minder in clearing the ball multiple times late in the match.
Gulliver set up a thrilling scoring chance at the end of the second overtime on a cross that Beatrice Garcia Herrera tapped just a couple of feet high over an empty net that nearly won the match.
▪ Region 4-5A final — Lourdes 2, Cypress Bay 1 (4-1 PKs): As so often happens when a soccer game goes to penalty kicks, it comes down to one of the goalkeepers.
And fortunately for the Lourdes girls’ soccer team, it had a good one in front of the net in Amanda Puig.
After Lourdes and Cypress Bay went at it for 100 minutes of soccer without being able to determine a winner, it was Puig who came through with a pair of penalty kick saves to give her team a victory over the Lightning at Cypress Bay High School.
And with that, the Bobcats (21-2-2) punched their ticket to the state final four for the fourth time in school history and first since 2013 and will take on Lithia Newsome in a 5A state semifinal next Friday at Melbourne High School.
“I’m so proud of these girls and so happy for them,” said Lourdes head coach Ramiro Vengoechea. “They worked so hard to get to this moment. All we’ve talked about all year was to get to states and they wanted it tonight and you could see they way they played out there tonight was pure heart and they did it.”
They did it thanks not only to Puig’s saves but four precise, perfectly placed shots in the PK shootout by Niki Molina, Emma Bryan, Natalie Silberman and finally the clincher by Olivia Candela. So much so that CB keeper Sofia Julien actually guessed correctly on two of the shots and they still went in.
“Not only does Amanda work hard on PKs with her coach but we work on them all the time as a team and we nailed all four of them out there,” said Vengoechea.
Said Puig, “It was very scary but I had faith in myself and my team. I set up a pattern with my coach, told me to go one to the right and one to the left. This is awesome. My first year on varsity and can’t believe I’m getting this opportunity.”
When Cypress Bay’s Maria Munoz beat Puig to a loose ball in front of the net and knocked it in with 15 minutes left in the game, the Lightning (21-2-1) led 1-0 and it didn’t look like Lourdes would ever see overtime.
That’s when Silberman saved the day. Following a foul just outside the box, she lined up for a direct kick from the left side from 20 yards out with 8 minutes left. She struck it perfectly, getting it just over the wall and left curving it just inside the lower left post past a diving Julien.
“Was just trying to get it over the wall and curl it in and I just hit it perfectly,” said Silberman. “I knew there wasn’t much time left and that that might be our last chance to score so I knew it was pretty much on me at that point.”
▪ Region 4-1A Final — Westminster Academy 3, Marathon 1:Westminster Academy midfielder Camryn Pagliaro tallied a goal and an assist to help the Lions (16-1-1) secure a win at home over the Marathon Dolphins (12-7) and a trip to the state tournament.
The Lions will now head up to Melbourne, where they will face Community School of Naples in the state semifinals on Monday.
In the 13th minute, Pagliaro streaked down the left side of the field past several Marathon defenders and buried a shot past the goalkeeper to give Westminster Academy an early 1-0 lead.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the second half, the Lions defense had a momentary breakdown and allowed a goal to Marathon’s Jackie Clairmont, making it a one-goal game with 31 minutes remaining in the match.
But the Lions remained aggressive and continued to put pressure on the Dolphins backline. Their strategy paid off with six minutes left, when Pagliario sent a pass in front of the goal area to forward Alexis Kwasnik, who scored from point blank range to give Westminster the important insurance goal.
▪ Region 4-3A Final - American Heritage 3, North Fort Myers 1: American Heritage is just two wins away from winning it’s second consecutive 3-A state championship after coming from behind to defeat North Fort Myers.
Tied 1-1 at the half, Emily Vasquez put the Patriots (20-1-0) ahead in the 53rd minute from the right front corner of the penalty box. A minute later, freshman Taylor Dobles padded Heritage’s lead when she collected a pass from Dejah Cason up the middle of the box and stuck the ball past Red Knights’ (20-4-1) keeper Summer Ackerson.
North Fort Myers faced a strong attack all game, but got on the scoreboard first in the 29th minute when Patriots’ keeper poorly tried to clear a ball that went straight to Taylor Kruse, who fired the ball back from 8 yards out past her.
The lead lasted less than a minute when Dobles sprinted up the left wing and found Dejah Cason parked at the goal box.
Despite missing 4 starters to injury, Heritage pushed the ball up field all night, finishing the game with 9 shots on goal, 22 shots overall.
▪ Region 4-4A final - St. Thomas Aquinas at Stuart South Fork, ppd.: The game was moved to Saturday at 2 p.m. at South Fork High.