TAMPA – Plant earned the right to defend its Lady Wildcat Invitational title as goals either side of halftime gave the Panthers a 2-0 victory against Seminole on Wednesday night at Wharton High.
“That is a good win,” Panthers coach Steve McGill said. “Seminole’s a strong, strong team, and they’ve always had a great program, so I’m very excited with that.”
The Panthers had opportunities to take the lead early, pressuring the Warhawks goal and twice hitting the post, but the breakthrough came on a slight piece of good fortune. Seven minutes before the break, Kelly Coker made a run down the right, and as she approached the byline looked to center the ball into the penalty area. Coker caught the ball with the outside of her right foot, though, and with Seminole’s goalkeeper cheating off her line in anticipation of the cross, the ball bent the other way, and snuck in at the near post.
The Panthers were able to double their lead more conventionally in the 52nd minute as Linzy Rakestraw scored to make the score 2-0, and Plant continued to play well and control the game following that. Then, with about 15 minutes to go, Seminole began to take hold, and Lauryn Bodden had to be sharp to deny excellent shots from Megan Lawrence and Sierra Lelii to maintain the Panthers’ two-goal advantage.
McGill said closing out games was something the Panthers needed to work on, after being eliminated from the region playoffs last season when facing a similar situation.
“When we played East Lake in the regions, and we had a 2-0 lead with 18 minutes to go,” McGill said. “We started to get sloppy, I don’t know it we were tired, or if it was ‘the game’s almost over, let’s just get the ball out,’ but we stopped control of possession and our time on the ball, and we’re allowing them to have more and generate more attacks.
“Same thing tonight, we’re working the ball, working the ball, working the ball, and then it started getting a little ping-pongy, started getting a little clear-happy instead of controlling it.”
The Panthers will get a rematch of last year’s final on Saturday afternoon as it faces Newsome. The Wolves advanced with a shootout victory against Clearwater Central Catholic on Tuesday night, and McGill is eager to face another tough squad.
“I’ve been excited about this whole tournament,” McGill said. “This is like the upper-echelon of Hillsborough, and when you throw in CCC and Seminole and you’ve got great talent right here. This is an awesome tournament to get a guage on where your season could go.”