They didn’t care that they were soaked and that a cold, windy rain fell on the field at Melbourne High School.
Nothing was going to ruin the celebration the Plantation American Heritage girls soccer team was having late Thursday night.
They were way too busy celebrating, crying tears of joy and hugging each other following a 2-0 win over Ponte Vedra in the Class 3A state championship game.
In a game that was devoid of any quality scoring chances on either side for most of the night before the game went to a weather delay with 14:19 left in regulation, the Heritage girls came out with a little extra energy and scored twice in the last seven minutes to pull it out.
The win marked the fourth straight state title for Heritage and 10th overall, second-best in the state behind the 14 by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas was unable to get to 15 following its upset loss to Viera in a 4A semifinal earlier in the evening.
“This whole night, the rain and stoppage, it just kind of went with this whole crazy season we had to go through,” said Heritage coach Cindy Marcial who had to deal with a bushel of injuries during the season in which four starters were lost. “ I think I’m still in shock right now. I’m just so very happy for the girls. They played really well tonight, a lot better than yesterday and we really wanted to send the seniors out in style.”
With the title, Heritage (22-1), whose only loss this season was a 1-0 decision to St. Thomas when the teams met back in November, became only the fourth team in state history to win at least four straight titles. Aquinas (1993-1999), Douglas (2003-2007) and Orange Park St. John’s Country Day (2012-2016) are the only others to do it.
The Patriots have now won 20 consecutive playoff games dating back to the 2012 state championship game, their last loss coming ironically to Ponte Vedra.
Following a 20-minute delay when a front blew through Melbourne with heavy rain and lightning, the two teams took the field again and the Patriots came out with a lot more energy.
Finally, with just over seven minutes left, freshman Marlee Fray got to a ball down the left side, beat her defender and had a clear look from the left side from 15 yards out. She left-footed a perfect shot toward the top right side of the net that just got past the outstretched hands of Ponte Vedra keeper Hannah Suder.
“I saw the ball coming down the left side and nobody was around it and knew I was going to get a clean look from the left side,” said Fray. “When I let it go, I knew I had it on goal and didn’t think the keeper would get there and she didn’t. What a moment for me as I just knew we were going to win a fourth straight championship and to play a part in it was an honor.”
The Sharks (17-4-7) pushed up in a desperate attempt to try and score the equalizer but the Heritage defense was up to the task. With everyone up, that created an opportunity at the other end and that’s when another freshman, Taylor Dobles, broke free down the middle and beat Suder to the ball and dribbled on into the net with just 34 seconds left as the Heritage bench erupted.
“What an honor it is to be a part of something like this and a lot of credit goes to my assistant coaches,” said Marcial. “They do a lot of the work behind the scenes and never get any of the credit. I just told them during the weather delay that we needed to fight with our hearts, play for our seniors and play for all the girls who were hurt and, just like all season, they found a way.”