Broward High Schools

American Heritage returns to state title match

Having nursed nagging injuries that kept her out of the lineup for much of the regular season, senior Martha Thomas had mostly flown under the radar.

But on Thursday morning it was Thomas who showed up in a big way for Plantation American Heritage as she scored both goals to lead the Patriots past Ponte Vedra, 2-0, in a Class 3A state semifinal.

With the win, Heritage (28-0-1), ranked No. 3 in the nation in the NSCAA, will be looking for its second consecutive state title and eighth overall when the Patriots take on nearby Merritt Island in the 3A state championship game 8 p.m. Friday. Merritt Island defeated Palm Coast Matanzas 2-0 in the other semifinal.

“Martha’s a senior and a big-time player for us but was hurt and struggled with injuries during the season but really showed up big-time for us today,” said Heritage coach Cindy Marcial. “She was here and there during the regular season but just all through the playoffs she has just pushed us through and she’s really stepped up and been so important to this team.”

With the game still scoreless and halftime just seconds away, Thomas took a perfect pass from Dejah Cason from the corner and found herself one-on-one with Ponte Vedra goalie Kari Davidson in front of the net. She knocked it in the top right corner for the goal with just 15 seconds left.

The Patriots controlled the ball on offense and played lockdown, air-tight defense the entire second half, denying the Sharks any quality chances and making life pretty easy for goalie Jennifer Ocampo. Ponte Vedra finished with just four shots for the entire game and only two on goal.

“We know once we score a goal, it gives us the momentum and we’re a very hard team to stop,” Marcial said. “They had the wind in the first half and were playing a lot of kick ball. Once we got the wind we pretty much knew they would have to play our style. They couldn’t just kick it, that wasn’t going to work. We knew we had a huge advantage.”

With less than three minutes left and Ponte Vedra trying desperately to push things on offense, the Sharks left themselves vulnerable on defense. Thomas found herself with another opportunity when Davidson failed to clear a shot. Thomas intercepted the ball in front of the net and scored her second goal with 2:41 left.

“I think during the year I struggled a little bit scoring goals but today it was going to be our last game of the season and the last game of my career if we didn’t win so I wanted to give all I had,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow [Friday] because it’s a great opportunity for us to go out with back-to-back titles and a nice way to end my high school career.”

It was the third consecutive postseason matchup between the two teams after squaring off in the state final each of the past two years, Ponte Vedra winning in 2012 and Heritage last season.