Berlin Waters expected a blowout. The Wiregrass Ranch forward was as stunned as anyone when the Bulls had to go into overtime to edge Sickles, 2-1 in the Class 4A-District 8 semifinals.
The Bulls will face top seed and host Steinbrenner, which routed Gaither 6-1 in the second half of the night's doubleheader.
Waters scored both goals for Wiregrass Ranch, including the winner when she scored on a loose ball in front of the goal.
"We knew this might be hard, but we were really starting to get nervous,'' Waters said. "We had no idea anything like this was coming at us.''
Sickles jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, and goaltender Brooke Salas kept the Gryphons in the game until Waters scored midway through the second half. Salas stood strong in goal to take it to overtime, but Waters scored again to give Wiregrass Ranch an uneasy win.
The Bulls were playing without three starters who were out because of illness, and coach Edwin Costa hopes they are back in time for Friday's final.
"They were nervous, but we have high expectations,'' Costa said. "We just had a bad case of the butterflies. We'll look at film and be ready on Friday.''
It was much easier for Steinbrenner. Alexis Bredeau scored the first of her two goals on her first shot of the game, and the Warriors led 4-0 at the half against Gaither. Stephanie Hirsch had three saves for Steinbrenner before allowing a late goal.
"We were really confident coming in,'' said Steinbrenner coach Angela Gillisse. "We are playing our best and playing with the confidence we need.''
The win was the 11th straight win for the Warriors, who started the season 3-4. Steinbrenner won the state title two years ago and is the defending district champion.
Wiregrass Ranch beat Steinbrenner 3-2 early in the season. It was the last loss for the Warriors, and Hirsch said she doesn't plan on the winning streak ending any time soon.
"My goal is 'no more,' " Hirsch said. "We'll do whatever it takes to get back to state. This is the hardest-working group of girls I have ever seen.''
3A-7: Land O' Lakes, Sunlake reach final
Sunlake made team history, while Land O' Lakes pulled out a win, and the two teams from the same town will face each other Friday night for the Class 3A-District 7 championship, the third meeting between the crosstown rivals this season.
"That's fine," long-time Gators coach Vicky King said. "We'll play no matter who it is we have to play."
The Seahawks (10-7-4) qualified for their first regional tournament appearance with a 2-0 win over Pasco (5-14-2), which is just another in a season of firsts for the sixth-year program.
"We're so nervous for Friday, but so, so happy at the same time," said Sunlake coach Jami Finan, who led the team to its first winning record. "We've hit humps and bumps along the season, but we're ready to run to Friday."
Sunlake took a quick lead in the 15th minute on a goal from Cassidy Kallenborn, then added its second goal in the 70th minute by Emily Higgins, her ninth this season. Goalkeeper Maya Kamat notched her ninth shutout this season.
In the second game, Land O' Lakes (16-4-4) and Wesley Chapel (5-9-2) played to a scoreless draw through regulation, but in the 89th minute, Misty Audate sent a cross that was headed toward the goal by Savanna Ronk and finished off by Catherine Gray for the winner.
The Gators outshot the Wildcats 9-0 in the game.
"They sat back and stacked their defense," King said. "They played us tough, but we got through a situation many of our players haven't been through in high school."
3A-8: Hudson stuns River Ridge, 4-1
The only upset to date, which wasn't much of a surprise in the semifinals of the Class 3A-District 8 girls soccer tournament, was Gulf defeating Fivay on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday night, the 3A-8 tournament received a surprise, and it came from No. 3-seeded Hudson, as the Cobras pulled off a 4-1 upset victory against River Ridge at Des Little Stadium. Mitchell soundly defeated Gulf 2-0 and will meet Hudson for the district championship at 7 p.m. Friday night.
"The girls played with a lot of character tonight," Hudson coach Stephen Jones said. "That's what we've been pushing all season. Good character when you're winning and good character when you're losing. That's what we've strived to maintain all season off the field, and now it's happening on the field."
In the sixth minute, Hudson freshman Caroline DiMonda scored the Cobras' first goal of the night. Two minutes later, senior captain Brooke McKillen scored on an unassisted goal to put Hudson up 2-0 less than 10 minutes into the contest. Hudson senior Sarah Staley scored the third goal of the game for the Cobras, which came on a strike from more than 15 yards out. DiMonda added another goal in the second half to put Hudson (13-5-2) up 4-0 and out of reach for the No. 2-seeded River Ridge (15-4-2).
In the matchup between host Gulf and No. 1 seed Mitchell, the Mustangs were able to take control with an early score from sophomore Amanda Hayes in the 23rd minute. Mitchell (21-0-1) kept Gulf at bay for most of the game and outshot the Buccaneers 26-2. Buccaneers goalkeeper Catie Greene made 17 saves, and Mitchell keeper Erica Disbrow recorded two stops.
"Facing Hudson is a big surprise," Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said. "We've done well against Hudson both times that we've played them before."
2A-9: Berkeley Prep, Academy ousted
Clearwater Central Catholic will host rival St. Petersburg Catholic on Friday for the Class 2A-District 9 title as a result of semifinal play Wednesday.
The host Marauders blanked Berkeley Prep 2-0, while Academy of the Holy Names found itself on the wrong end of a 4-1 score against St. Petersburg Catholic.
CCC's Abby Harkins had proved to be a thorn in the Buccaneers' side before scoring two goals in a previous loss to CCC. Wednesday, Harkins proved to be trouble again.
Harkins, playing aggressive and attacking the goal in the first half, found herself in the right spot at the right time as she raced in from the left side and knocked in a rebound for a 1-0 lead and what proved to be the winning goal.
"You may see a goal like that once a year, and tonight was that once-a-year time," CCC coach Tom Typrowicz said.
"It got played back out to me on the right, and I was able to place it into the back corner," Howard said of her second goal, which ended AHN's season.