Class 5A-7 at Riverview
SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Wharton (4) vs. Durant (5), 3 p.m.; Plant (3) vs. Bloomingdale (6), 5 p.m.; Riverview (2) vs. Alonso (7), 7 p.m. Thursday: Plant-Bloomingdale winner vs. Riverview-Alonso winner, 5 p.m.; Wharton-Durant winner vs. Newsome (1), 7 p.m. Saturday: Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.
OUTLOOK: It would be a slight exaggeration to say this district comes down to the health of one player, but for Newsome, the return of forward Ajay Sequeira (25 goals) is a big deal. The senior's healthy return from a foot injury might take Newsome from "should win" to "will win" in this bracket. Wolves coach Allen Ware said he is pretty confident he'll have his threat back to help provide a lethal option for his midfield (Wes Gussman, Jacob Van Der Luit and Jack Schlandt) to feed.
No. 3 Plant is a vastly improved team from the one that lost one goal difference matches to Newsome and Riverview in the first half of the season. Behind a solid defense led by senior Zach Thompson and sophomore Seth Rinkevich, the Panthers have won seven straight. No. 2 Riverview appears destined for a semifinal showdown with the Panthers to decide who will reach the final and the state series. Jacob Goodall and Christian Cadavid lead a strong Sharks' midfield.
--- 4A-8 at Gaither
SCHEDULE: Wednesday: Wiregrass Ranch (5) vs. Freedom (4), 6 p.m.; Gaither (3) vs. Chamberlain (6), 8 p.m. Friday: Sickles (1) vs. Wiregrass-Freedom winner, 6 p.m.; (2) Steinbrenner vs. Gaither-Chamberlain winner, 8 p.m. Saturday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: So the safe bet here would put top seeds Sickles and Steinbrenner in the final and that would be a soccer fan's dream as the two teams tied in a regular-season thriller. But there are a few dark horses in the way of that rematch. The No. 1 Gryphons get the winner of Freedom-Wiregrass Ranch and with a midfield anchored by Thiago Silveira and attack strengthened by Mauricio Delgado, Sickles should have the edge to reach the final. For Steinbrenner, talented midfielders Austin Labban and Enrique Barboto and a forward attack led by Jason Collister have paced the Warriors.
However, Steinbrenner faces a tough challenge to reach the state series with a potential semifinal showdown with No. 3 Gaither. The Cowboys' 6-6-3 record doesn't do the team that played each of the top seeds to a regular season draw justice. Gaither may have underdog written all over it, but seniors Jonathan Lopez, Tyler Helm and sophomore Jhonathan DaSilva (who each had two goals in the team's final regular season match) could help pull the upset.
--- Class 4A-9 at Plant City
SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Armwood (7) vs. Brandon (2), 3 p.m.; East Bay (4) vs. Tampa Bay Tech (5), 5 p.m.; Hillsborough (6) vs. Plant City (3), 7 p.m. Thursday: East Bay-TBT winner vs. Strawberry Crest (1), 5 p.m.; Hillsborough-Plant City winner vs. vs. Armwood-Brandon winner, 7 p.m. Friday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Nothing like taking a talented group of players having a giant chip on their collective shoulders. Top-seed Strawberry Crest saw its undefeated season end on an own goal to Plant and then a wake-up call, 3-1, loss against a talented Newsome to end the regular season. The Chargers already had to be heavy favorites in this tournament, but may now be out to make a point. Forward Mazeed Aro-Lambo (14 goals, six assists) leads the Chargers scorers, but a talented group of upper-classmen including senior Noah Shaffer should get Strawberry Crest to the final.
From there it gets interesting. Hillsborough, Plant City and Brandon are all question marks. The Terriers tied the Chargers before stumbling their way through the rest of the season. Brandon picked up wins against both Hillsborough and Plant City this season, kept things close in its losses. Despte a talented tea, the Raiders lost eight of their last 10.
--- Class 3A-9 at Lennard
SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Middleton (8) vs. Jesuit (1), 6 p.m.; Jefferson (7) vs. King (2), 8 p.m. Wednesday: Spoto (5) vs. Leto (4), 6 p.m.; Robinson (6) vs. Lennard (3), 8 p.m. Thursday: Middleton-Jesuit winner vs. Spoto-Leto winner, 6 p.m.; Robinson-Lennard winner vs. Jefferson-King winner, 8 p.m. Friday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: The top three teams in this district all tied in regular season meetings. The district talent picked up last season with a steady improvement for Leto and this year King and Lennard joined that fight to test favorite and last season's state semifinalist Jesuit. With a trip to the Montverde Academy Tournament to face No. 6 team in the nation Phoenix, Ariz. Coppell and a late-season test against defending 1A champs Tampa Prep last Friday (1-1 draw), Jesuit is tournament ready. Forward Eric Mubang leads the scorers, but talent overloads every part of the field for the Tigers with a stacked midfield (Ethan Saleh, all-American Jacob Vila, Luis Ortiz), defense (led by Michael Conlon) and a solid keeper (Lucas Schmeling).
The potential semifinal matchup between Lennard and King on Thursday will get the real action started. Lennard (8-0-5) remains the county's only undefeated team. A charmed run seems to be in the Longhorns favor, but the talent is there, as well, as juniors Kristopher Ospina and Emmaunel Zamudio lead the attack. King had a rockier road through the season, but has a balanced team with a solid scorer in Lucmakson Zamor.
--- Class 2A-9 at Tampa Catholic
SCHEDULE: Wednesday: Berkeley Prep (1) vs. Clearwater Central Catholic (4), 5 p.m.; Tampa Catholic (2) vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (3), 7 p.m. Friday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: The plan sounds simple – win one and you are in the state playoffs. Hillsborough vs. Pinellas in the semifinals as 2012 Class 2A state runner-up Berkeley Prep holds the top seed in this tournament. The Buccaneers on paper have had a tough run this season, including an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Jesuit on Friday, but Berkeley is experienced with a talented midfield including Daniel Felman, Quinton Kauchik and Tyler Sacone. Tampa Catholic (13-1-2) freshman Bryson Boylan ended the season with a hat trick in the Crusaders' 4-1 win against Seffner Christian. He is Tampa Catholic's season scoring leader, but junior Corey Smolarick may be the player who needs the most attention setting up the attackers in the midfield with 14 assists on the year.
--- Class 1A-7 at Tampa Prep
SCHEDULE: Tuesday: (Quarterfinals are at various sites) Academy at the Lakes (8) at Tampa Prep (1), 6:30 p.m.; Cambridge Chr. (5) at Carrollwood Day (4), 4 p.m.; Seffner Chr. (7) at Calvary Chr. (2), 6 p.m.; Bishop McLaughlin (6) at Indian Rocks Chr. (3), 5:30 p.m. Thursday: Seffner-Calvary winner vs. Bishop McLaughlin-Indian Rocks winner, 5 p.m.; Cambridge-Carrollwood winner vs. AATL-Tampa Prep winner, 7 p.m. Friday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Since 2005, Tampa Prep (16-1-3) has won five state titles including last year's Class 1A crown. Tampa Prep outscored the field 46-4 in regular-season matches. Senior Shaddy Douidar leads the Terrapins scorers with more than 20 goals, but is just one of a giant handful of weapons for coach Doug Smith. Double mark Douidar and risk leaving open junior, forward Michael Spezza or giving senior, defender/midfielder Macsen Pritchard space to find another option.
(Seeds in parentheses)