High School Sports

Coral Reef girls top rival Palmetto 3-1 in GMAC soccer final

Palmetto’s Valentina Fernandez, center, slices through two Coral Reef defenders in the GMAC title game.
Palmetto’s Valentina Fernandez, center, slices through two Coral Reef defenders in the GMAC title game. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The celebration was a conservative one.

Yes, the girls on the Coral Reef soccer team were certainly a happy bunch on Friday night as they celebrated a 3-1 victory over district rival Palmetto in the GMAC championship game at Traz Powell Stadium.

But they also remember the history. It was a year ago that they celebrated the program’s first GMAC title following a win over Miami Springs.

But a week later they were upset in their district final by Palmetto (after beating them twice during the regular season) drawing a much tougher first round opponent in Lourdes. Sure enough, one week later a magical historical season was over when Lourdes beat them.

The win Friday night kept the Barracudas unbeaten at 17-0-2 and represented their third win over the Panthers this season following 5-0 and 3-1 victories earlier.

But they knew darn well when the game was over that a fourth game possibly looms next week in the district final and perhaps even a fifth should they meet in the regional semis.

“Tonight was nice but all the girls know what happened last year and that the real important work is still in front of us,” said Coral Reef head coach Deano Nunez. “Same message all year. We have a good team but can’t get complacent and not to forget how it felt last year when we lost that district final because we had won 19 straight up to that point. Tonight wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played but we won it and now our entire focus is to go out next week and win our district.”

Nunez watched as his team got an early lead on Palmetto and never looked back.

In the game’s fifth minute, Bianca Mandrini fed a perfect crossing pass over to Katherine Diaz on the right side and Diaz rocketed a perfect shot over the outstretched hands of Palmetto keeper Sophia Bainger and it was 1-0.

Reef padded the lead to 2-0 just two minutes before halftime when Rayquel Berry showed why she is one of the best players in Miami-Dade County. Taking a ball down the left side, Berry dribbled through and around three different Palmetto defenders to break free. Bainger came out to meet her but was no match as Berry popped it in the bottom left side for her 31st goal of the year.

“When I got the ball my first instinct was to take it down line and when I saw top of goal box was open and I turned it inside,” said Berry, who has offers from group of small schools including St. Leo College and Shaw University. “As nice as it is to win this again tonight, we know what happened last year and we know that we’re going to have to bring it even harder, especially if it’s Palmetto again.”

The Barracudas made it 3-0 in the game’s 54th minute when Ashley Alfaro literally used her face to knock a loose ball in front of the net past the line.

The Panthers (13-4-1) scored with 16 minutes left when Emma Pardo beat Reef keeper Christina Velasquez to a loose ball 20 yards out in front of the net and knocked it home.

Palmetto and South Dade will square off in a district semifinal next Tuesday at Palmetto High School, and Coral Reef will take on Ferguson in the second game. If they both win, meeting No. 4 would be Thursday afternoon.