The St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ soccer team knew the path back to state wasn’t going to get easier after beating rival Cypress Bay.
With roughly 10 minutes remaining in the second half, the Raiders found themselves in a duel with Miami-Dade County powerhouse Lourdes.
Then, Chloe O’Neill punched Aquinas’ ticket to Melbourne.
O’Neill’s two goals lifted St. Thomas to a 3-1 road win at Columbus High School in the Region 4-5A final Friday night.
The Raiders (22-1-1) will play Wellington in a Class 5A state semifinal next Friday at either 3 or 5:30 p.m. at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne as they chase their second consecutive state title and state-record 14th overall.
“We came on strong in the second half and kept the pressure on,” Aquinas coach Carlos Giron said. “We knew something would fall through if we did.”
O’Neill’s tallies came within minutes of each other and ended what had been a spirited Lourdes’ postseason run as the Bobcats (21-3-1) came up a match short of reaching the state final four for the second time in three seasons. Lourdes was Dade’s last large-school team standing despite playing its third consecutive game without leading scorer Michelle Figarola.
Olivia Perez knotted up the score with 15 minutes left in the first half not long after Dallas Dorosy gave Aquinas a 1-0 edge on a penalty kick.
But the Bobcats were unable to get the go-ahead score, and O’Neill eventually found the mark for Aquinas.
“This was probably our best game of the year against our toughest opponent,” Lourdes coach Ramiro Vengoechea said. “I think it showed since we were in the game until late. Unfortunately, we fell short. But it was a great run.”
▪ Region 4-4A — Pembroke Pines Charter 3, Riviera Beach Suncoast: Behind two goals from versatile defender Sawyer Hall and another from Adriana Robles, Pembroke Pines Charter advanced to state for the second consecutive season.
Hall gave the Jaguars (21-2-1) their initial lead in the second minute on a laser shot from 35 yards out that found the net. The early scoring strike set the tone for the night.
“I was on defense, I ran all the way up and got the rebound from a corner kick,” Hall said. “It was the best feeling ever. I didn’t expect to do that.”
She then put in an easy goal early in the second half on a back-end breakdown by Suncoast (15-6-5), and Robles delivered with 22 minutes remaining, scoring from 30 yards away.
Last season Pines Charter fell to Fleming Island in its first trip to the final four. This time the Jaguars will face Venice in state semifinals on Friday at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne.
“They felt it. They lost last year, and I think they want it so much more this year,” Pines Charter coach Carlos Velasquez said.
▪ Region 4-1A — Miami Country Day 3, South Florida HEAT 0: Miami Country Day won its 23rd consecutive match and made school history in the process, earning a its first state semifinal berth in Miami Shores.
The Spartans (26-3) advanced to face Lakeland Christian, a 7-0 winner over Lake Worth Christian, in the semifinals on Wednesday at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. The HEAT finished the season 16-11-1.
The final-four berth is a long way from the start of the season when Country Day suffered a trio of early losses, including a humbling 7-1 defeat to Marathon.
“We had a moment [after that match] when we decided we weren’t going to get beat like that again,” Spartans coach Kyllene Carter-Weiss said.
Friday’s victory avenged one of those early season defeats as the Spartans controlled possession from the outset and had a two-goal lead after just 12 minutes. Yakira Matisonn’s header forced a diving save attempt from Heat goalkeeper Bella Harris, but she could only parry it into the path of Ava Hansen who tapped it in for the game’s first goal.
Two minutes later, Country Day doubled the lead as Hansen slid a pass into the path of Amanda Martin, who shot past Harris. Martin added a third midway through the second half.
▪ Region 4-3A — Plantation American Heritage 4, Cape Coral Ida Baker 1: It was what might be considered a modest celebration at midfield by American Heritage when the final whistle blew.
The two-time defending state champion and nationally ranked Patriots had clinched yet another trip to the final four.
And the saying “been there, done that before” clearly might have applied as the Patriot players dropped a few high-fives on each other before huddling up to meet with their coach at midfield. That was about it. When you figure that the team had just clinched its 14th trip to state in the past 16 years, that would explain why the celebration was modest.
Heritage, which has won the past two state titles, will go for the “three-peat” on Thursday when the Patriots head to Melbourne to take on Merritt Island in a Class 3A state semifinal in a rematch of last year’s state-title game.
“We’ve lost three starters to injuries this year so we’re just happy to be going back up there,” said Heritage coach Cindy Marcial whose team improved to 19-1-2. “It would be great to go try and get that three-peat.”
After Heritage took a 2-0 lead on goals from Dejah Cason and Chloe Laureano in the game’s 12th and 21st minute, respectively, it appeared the rout was on.
But just five minutes before halftime, Ida Baker (14-9-2) stunned Heritage by popping in a loose ball in front of the net off the benefit of a direct kick from 30 yards out and the lead was cut in half to 2-1 at the half.
That’s when senior Melanie Monteagudo took over the show. The University of Florida commit, who broke the Broward County record in scoring a year ago, scored just two minutes into the second half to give her team back its two-goal cushion.
▪ Region 4-2A American Heritage-Delray 2, Gulliver Prep 0: Allison Breed of American Heritage-Delray scored a brilliant second-half goal that punctuated the conclusion of Gulliver Prep’s season at Heritage Field.
Breed took the ball on a dead run on her own side of the field and outran the entire Gulliver defense and then faked out goalkeeper Nina Fernandez, who came off the goal line to contest the shot. The freshman then drove the ball into the lower left-hand corner of the net.
“I saw the keeper come off her line, and she challenged me and went one way while I went another,” Breed said. “I was just hoping that I wouldn’t miss the shot after that long run.”
Gulliver coach Andrew Vassell gave credit where credit was due. His team finished the season at 16-1-1.
“They made the most of their chances and we didn’t,” Vassell said. “We have no excuses.
“They capitalized and made two more plays than we did.”