PLANT CITY – Plant City wasn’t at its absolute best, but the Raiders' clinical finishing, in contrast to opponent East Bay’s, was enough to send them through to the Class 5A-District 8 tournament final with a 3-1 victory at Durant High on Tuesday evening.
The Raiders (13-1-2) opened the scoring early, A.J. Black giving his side the lead. Esgar Montelongo almost doubled the lead later in the first half, his first close-range effort being well-saved by East Bay goalkeeper Derrick Miranda, the rebound being headed off the line by a covering defender.
Jorge Martinez did make the score 2-0 five minutes before half time, cutting in from the left side to curl a shot into the right corner of the net from the top of the penalty area. Raiders coach Stephen Rossiter was very pleased with his side’s finishing.
“That’s how we’ve done it all year, and that’s just the good chemistry with this team,” Rossiter said. “They just know how to read each other on the diagonal, and they’ve worked well on the finishing side.”
On the other hand, the Indians' finishing was disappointing. While they were able to gain good possession, especially in the second half as the Raiders' passing became a little sloppy, the Indians (14-4-1) didn’t test Raiders goalkeeper Chris Sullivan as much as they would have liked, Miguel Cerveleon’s goal being ruled out for offside on one of the chances that did hit the target.
“It’s tough to get it down there and have so many opportunities and not be able to put one away,” Indians coach Jonathan Drake said. “I thought that first goal that was called back could have been a difference maker, that’s the game, sometimes it happens to you.”
As poor as the Raiders passing was at certain points of the second half, their third goal in the 69th minute showed what they could do when they put it all together. After the move began in their own half, the ball was passed wide to Martinez, who drove down the left. He then held up, and found Black surging through the left channel, and Black took the ball on before centering across the top of the 6-yard box where Marcus Svensson was there to meet it with a low finish.
“It definitely shows what they’re capable of,” Rossiter said of the goal. “Sometimes every team has their differences in the players on the field, but tonight everyone was definitely playing, the chemistry was there.”
Kyle Whiteside pulled a goal back three minutes later, being slipped in and firing home from close range after an initial shot had been blocked, but the Indians were unable to rally any further. Plant City did get a late scare as Black was helped off the field with what was described after the game as a bruised quad, meaning he may not be available for Friday’s final against Newsome.
Rossiter said the Raiders would now take a break until the final, and try to rest and recuperate with their place in the region tournament secured, but that the opportunity to win the second district title in school history was a big one.
“It’s huge, especially for our seniors,” Rossiter said. “I think it really gives them a lot of momentum, but they’ve still got to work hard to achieve it.”