If the Wharton boys soccer team is going to defend its 2008 Class 5A state title, the Wildcats are going to have to do it traveling a much different route this season.
Freedom got two first-half goals from Manny Martes and two second-half goals from Taylor Nalls and rolled to a 4-1 victory against Wharton in the Class 5A-District 8 championship Friday night at Freedom.
That means the Wildcats, who hosted every regional game last season on the way to claiming the program's first state title, will be on the road for the playoffs beginning Thursday. Freedom, on the other hand, will host a first-round playoff matchup.
The Patriots, who entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed, continued their offensive onslaught, finishing with 15 goals in three tourney games.
"We were having a problem scoring all year up until the last few games, but the kids finally put it all together," Patriots coach Dennis Derflinger said.
Wharton, which got its lone goal in the first half from Will Hunt, couldn't find the same scoring touch and missed a crucial penalty kick midway through the second half that would have made it a 3-2 game.
Soto Scores 4 For Land O' Lakes
BROOKSVILLE - Felix Soto has made a name for himself as a star cross country and track runner. But at least for one night, the Land O' Lakes senior looked just as dominant on the soccer field as he does at the finish line.
Soto scored four goals, giving him 20 on the season, to propel the Gators (21-2-2) to a 6-2 win against River Ridge (12-9-1) in the Class 5A-District 7 final.
"I don't know of a single other athlete in Pasco County's history that has won more championships than him," Gators coach Mark Pearson said of Soto's many exploits. "Between cross country and soccer, it's just been unbelievable, an unbelievable streak that he has had. ... He is a champion."
So are the Gators, who have won five consecutive district titles.
Though Royal Knights goalkeeper Sean Jones made several saves to protect the lead early, Land O' Lakes finally broke through on Dominic Cutrofello's 36th goal of the year to tie the game with 16:20 left in the half. Soto gave the Gators a halftime lead with his first goal, a header off a Justin Lyles blocked shot, and then scored three more in the second half to begin the rout. It was Soto's first career four-goal game.
Palm Harbor U. Tops East Lake
PALM HARBOR - Sam Venker scored with 26:25 left in the first half, giving Palm Harbor University a 2-0 lead en route to a 2-1 victory against East Lake in Friday's Class 5A-District 9 boys soccer title game. Venker's goal was assisted by Matthew Tobin.
Ben Sweat scored early in the first half as the Hurricanes jumped out to a quick lead over visiting East Lake. Sweat's unassisted goal was from inside the box.
"It was nothing on my part, it was all them," Palm Harbor coach Alex Delgado said. "Tonight, they proved that we belong, I give them the credit."
The Hurricanes secured the right to play in the region tournament with homefield advantage.
"Every game is a big game, and we have to take it one game at a time," East Lake coach Sergie Stopek said concerning his team's focus on its regional quarterfinal.
"It was the game of their life; they deserve it," added Stopek about Palm Harbor's performance.
Seminole Stops Osceola 2-0
SEMINOLE - Seminole (16-8-3) won its fourth straight boys district soccer championship Friday as the visiting Warhawks defeated neighborhood rival Osceola (7-8-1) 2-0.
Second-seeded Seminole took the Class 5A-District 11 title with strong defense, good speed and one goal in each half.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, junior Shane Wixted drilled in a shot from 22 yards out. Freshman Tyler Zulewski added an insurance goal with about 16 minutes left in the game.
Defense dominated the hard-fought battle. Osceola goalkeeper Nick Zapata kept his fourth-seeded team in the game with eight saves. Seminole put on frequent pressure and had 15 shots.
The Warriors had also dropped a two-goal game to Seminole during the season.
Seminole coach Rick Masi had high praise for his team. "I could not be any prouder of these kids," he said. "We had only one starter back this season, and the team has done well. To lose those 10 players and win another district title is great. Now we get a home game in the regionals and that means a great deal."
With the big graduation losses, some people had counted the Warhawks out this season.
Both teams advance to regional play Thursday.
Mitchell Gets Past Gaither
NEW PORT RICHEY - Mitchell High boys soccer coach Oscar Ubillus could see it coming: His Mustangs were lifeless in warmups and listless in the first half, battling Gaither to a 1-1 tie.
Ubillus then issued a challenge to his team: Get moving or you will not be district champs.
Consider the message received.
Mitchell (14-12) broke the game open early in the second half with two goals roughly two minutes apart to beat Gaither (9-9-2) 3-1 to win the Class 6A-District 7 crown.
Jason Leslie's short shot from the right side, his second goal of the night, hit the left side of the net at the 37:48 mark and proved to be the winning goal. Just more than two minutes later, Alex Wegener's header from nearly the same spot as Leslie's goal gave the Mustangs an insurance goal.
"We wanted to win," Leslie said of their hot second-half start. "It was just midfielders doing their job. When you hit your shots in the right spot, there is nothing the keeper can do about it."
Durant Edges East Bay 1-0
SARASOTA - The entire Durant boys soccer team made a beeline for goalie Connor Bass, and a look of panic spread on his face. He ran to avoid the oncoming bullrush, escaping without serious injury.
It's a good thing, too, because the Cougars will need Bass to become the first Durant team to get past the regional finals.
Bass stopped three of the five penalty kicks he faced Friday to give Durant a 1-0 victory in the Class 6A-District 8 title against East Bay. The two teams played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer before Leo Mesquita, Freeman Bass and Cecil Clarke scored during PKs to give Durant (23-2) its first district title since 2003.
"We know we can count on Connor," Coach Jamin Hollingsworth said.
East Bay's Josh Slatton was nearly as impressive. The little-used defender, who had played 15 minutes in goal this season, was forced into action when starter Derrick Miranda received a double yellow card in the final two minutes of the first half. Slatton denied the Cougars for the next 60 minutes and even turned away one penalty kick. David Castillo and Brandon Romero scored in penalty kicks for the Indians (12-6-3) to even things up at 2, but Clarke drilled one past Slatton, and Bass denied Walter Pimentel to seal the title.