NEW PORT RICHEY - Sickles had to rely on youth.
And it made them the winners of the 10th Annual Winter Classic Tournament hosted by Ridgewood. The Gryphons (11-3-3) eked out a 1-0 win over Pompano Beach Blanche Ely in the championship match Wednesday evening, capped by a second straight shutout by freshman goalkeeper Matt Bajza.
"(He's) 14 years old - half the guys out there look like they're 23," fifth-year Sickles coach Antonio Calvo said. "Back-to-back shutouts, and he's been getting plenty of playing time, but when I asked him to step in (for the regular starting keeper who was away on vacation), he showed up big time."
Bajza, who was named tournament MVP, kept Clearwater out of the net Tuesday and the Tigers (5-7-2) off the board Wednesday. All it took was midfielder Woody Brink's lone goal early into the game in the sixth minute.
"It was a big mistake on that side of the defense," Blanche Ely coach Concepcion Ledezma said. "It wasn't like we were doing anything to really generate attacks, but they controlled midfield, and once they got the ball back, they did a good job keeping it."
The Tigers certainly brought the most diverse team to the tournament. Of the 22 players rostered, 20 are Haitian and can he heard calling out plays in Creole. Blanche Ely plays tough opponents, including state-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas.
"We've played four undefeated teams, so we play against giants," Ledezma said. "It was nice to come here and let everyone see what Broward County is all about. A mediocre record, however, is a good record back there."
Tournament director Ed McComiskey, Ridgewood's longtime coach, was just as impressed as Calvo, as they watched the physical and fast Tigers take the tournament by storm.
"For a team to come to their very first big tournament like this and then play phenomenal," Calvo said. "It shows since they made it to the championship.
As for the Gryhpons, they lost 17 seniors from a season ago, so they've been relying on a youth movement, but it's been a successful one.
"Our biggest thing was that, after losing so many seniors, we'd have to regroup," Calvo said. "That's not a word we like to use, so we've been reloading - that's what we call it. So to lose all those players and have a winning record, that just shows our program has been dedicated and deep, despite losing players."
In earlier action, Pinellas Park (10-1) beat Clearwater, 4-0, to take third place. East Bay and Central faced off first in a consulation match, only to end at 3-3 and head to penalty kicks. The Indians, who managed just two goals in their first two games, defeated the Bears 4-3 in the shootout.
Host Ridgewood (6-11) dropped the fifth-place match to Alonso, 5-3. Leading scorer Travis Lord pulled the score to 3-2 with his 13th goal of the season, but the defense had a hard time shutting down the Ravens' high-scoring offense, which put up a tournament-high 12 goals.