PLANT CITY – Newsome advanced to its first district final, and in turn its first region tournament appearance, as a dominant opening 20 minutes paved the way for a 3-1 victory against host Durant in the Class 5A-Region 8 semifinals on Tuesday night.
“This is the furthest we’ve ever gone,” Matt Staggs said. “It’s nice to be the best team in Newsome history.”
Staggs gave the Wolves the lead in the ninth minute. After winning a free kick close to the goal line on the right side of the penalty area, Staggs and Skylar Wilks worked a practice-field move to perfection, with Staggs dummying a cross before peeling off to the left. Wilks then slid a pass to Staggs, who hadn’t been picked up 15 yards from the goal. He fired a shot into the top left corner of the net.
“It was perfect, upper 90,” Staggs said. “Skylar and I knew we were going to do that play if we had the chance. We had the opportunity the last game, but they covered us, so it was a good goal.”
The Wolves added to the lead with two goals in four minutes, one on a cross-field pass in the 15th minute from Steven Gonzalez to Armani Alicea, whose low shot found the left corner. Harold Gussman added a third in similar fashion, with a shot just inside the left post.
“We respect Connor (Bass') height, you can’t beat him in the air, so you have to go low,” Newsome coach Neal Rickmers said. “It’s not the pace of the ball, it’s just the placement and the pace to actually put it in.”
While Newsome (14-4-3) opened the game strongly, Durant (9-5-4) faltered, giving up possession cheaply as the Cougars were unable to find the rhythm Coach Jamin Hollingsworth had been looking for.
“Newsome did everything we talked about doing in the first half,” Hollingsworth said. “You have to give them credit, the first goal, you can’t stop it, and I guess they got us rattled or nervous or however you want to put it, and we didn’t recover from that, and then the next two were unfortunate.”
The Cougars played better in the second half, but were unable to take their opportunities when they arose. Leading scorer Billy Fanning had difficulty finding his range for most of the night, finally scoring in the 78th minute, while Andres Plata had a good chance to pull a goal back early in the second half, only to fire over the crossbar.
Newsome also remained dangerous, Gonzalez’s curling free kick from the left forcing a good save from Bass and Mark Calhoun having his header off a corner from the right cleared off the line by Durant’s Ben Salazar.
Now the Wolves will face Plant City, a side they drew with 3-3 in the regular season. Rickmers said he thought his side would need to show the energy they had to start Tuesday’s game for the full 80 minutes if the Wolves were to win their first district title.
“To beat Plant City, you’re going to have to go the whole game,” Rickmers said. “For us, we need to get three and keep going, otherwise it’s going to be a tough battle.”