SLAM Charter School’s students didn’t waste any time getting ready to rush the field at North Miami Stadium to celebrate Friday night.
Much like it hasn’t taken the Titans’ boys’ soccer team long to become one of Miami-Dade County’s top teams.
SLAM Charter, a school in its third year of existence located near Marlins Park, clinched its first trip to the state final four in any team sport following a 4-1 win over Weston Sagemont in the Region 4-1A final.
“This feels amazing, and we’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish on this team,” Edwin McFarland said. “We just want to keep this up and keep working hard.”
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On the strength of four goals combined from McFarland, Caleb Acosta and Wilfredo Dilbert, and another stellar goalkeeping performance from Jefry Padilla, the Titans (16-5-1) reached state in only their second varsity season and first year competing in a district.
“We try to keep the game going as fast as we can,” Acosta said. “The coaches always tell us to go out there hard and make the best of every play out there.”
Sagemont (20-5-4) lost in the regional-final round for the fourth consecutive season but persevered despite injuries to several key players.
SLAM Charter will play Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic in a Class 1A state semifinal at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne on Wednesday, likely at 12:30 p.m.
The Titans, who are still developing several of their sports programs, won District 16-1A and rolled through the regional playoffs with impressive wins, including a shootout win Tuesday against Scheck Hillel, which had advanced to state the previous two seasons.
SLAM does not have a home stadium, often playing its games this season at Kendall Soccer Park and usually conducts its practices at the fields near Marlins Park.
“This team has a great bond,” SLAM coach Daniel Chong said. “We’ve had some road trips that have really helped this team get to know each other and really made things a lot easier for them this season.”
• Region 4-3A final — Immokalee 1, Doral Academy 0: Doral Academy coach Pamela McDonald hoped she would be giving her Firebirds a pump-up speech for their first trip to states.
Instead, she had to speak in the past tense when telling them how successful their season was, consoling her players — most of them shedding tears — after a goal by Ulises Soto with 3:40 remaining lifted visiting Immokalee in a battle of nationally ranked teams.
Doral (23-2-1) was on the attack persistently in the second half, but on one of the missed opportunities, Immokalee (20-3-3) broke away on a counter attack and Yves Gomez delivered a perfect cross from deep in the corner, allowing Soto to one-time it off his left foot into the net.
“They got that one strike and put it away. I’ll give it to them,” said senior Christian Cervantes, who rose up and said some encouraging words to his teammates following his final high school game. “This team deserved so much more. I had to show my appreciation because, no matter what, they’re a family to me.”
Doral was ranked ninth nationally by the National High School Soccer Coaches Association of America with what McDonald called the best team in its history.
▪ Region 4-4A final — Palm Beach Lakes 2, Belen 1 (OT): Belen was less than four minutes away from joyfully bouncing off its home field and heading to the state semifinals for just the second time in school history.
But instead of that, there was only heartbreak for Belen.
Auner Escobar scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to lead Palm Beach Lakes (17-0-3) to the victory over Belen (19-4).
Escobar’s golden goal with 5:40 elapsed in overtime came on a penalty kick after referees ruled he had been pushed in the box.
After Escobar scored, a half-dozen Palm Beach Lakes players sprinted toward a small but loud group of Belen fans. The players defiantly yelled at the Belen fans, who were separated from the field behind a fence.
Coaches quickly pulled the players away, and there were no further incidents.
Belen players, meanwhile, remained on the turf in dismay, many of them weeping.
“I was convinced we were going to state — I was already thinking about packing our bags for the hotel,” Belen coach Tanger Mendonca said in Portuguese. “But we mishit our clearing attempt on the tying goal.
“On the winning goal, in my opinion, [Escobar] was fouled outside the area, and it should not have been a penalty kick. We also had an early goal wiped out by an off-sides call that I do not believe was just.”
▪ Region 4-2A final — Gulliver 6, Delray American Heritage 1: Four first-half goals helped power the Raiders to an impressive victory over the Stallions (21-2-3) at Sean Taylor Memorial Field.
Gulliver (16-1-1) will go to Melbourne looking to defend last season’s state championship and make it to the state final for a third year in a row.
“We know the formula to get to where we are, finish it off and repeat a state championship,” senior Alberto Poleo said.
The first Gulliver goal came a breakaway by Andy Alvarez. Alexander Moztarzadeh scored the second goal.
A blasted kick from just over 60 yards by Poleo that sailed over the keeper found the back of the net for the third Raiders goal.
“That’s a shot I have been working on all season,” said Poleo of the long-distance goal.
Adriano Castro scored the fourth goal of the first half.
Poleo scored again in the second half to put Gulliver up 5-0, and multiple substitutes entered the game.
The final Raiders goal came when Lucas Massolo put in a loose ball. The Stallions avoided a shutout thanks to a late goal by Frederick Gil.
Gulliver will face the winner of LaBelle and St. Petersburg Catholic in the state 2A semifinal next Wednesday.