Tritons advance to 4A-2 regional soccer championship game
No matter the opponent or the skill level, when you play a team twice in the span of a week, a familiarity grows and players can prepare for what they have just seen and try to capitalize on it.
That was the case for the Mariner boys soccer team Saturday night, narrowly escaping with a 3-2 victory over LaBelle in the 4A-2 regional semifinal — a team it had just dominated eight days prior, 5-1, in the District 4A-8 championship game.
Mariner head coach Martin Cardenas speculated that in the prior game, LaBelle knew it was still tournament-bound if it were to lose, and played a more defensive style. This time around, there was no tomorrow — and Cowboys played like it.
“Today, they came with nothing to lose and came to play,” said Cardenas. “Unfortunately, our guys were still thinking that we played them last time and dominated possession, dominated opportunities. So, mentally they’re in that mindset and when they come out and these guys (LaBelle) are out there slapping them in the face then it’s a different reaction and I thought we didn’t react well in the first half.”
Despite what Cardenas called a sluggish half from his group, the Tritons possessed a 2-1 advantage after 40 minutes of play.
Mariner opened the scoring in minute 16 when Esteban Orjuela lofted a pass down the left sideline for Sean Paul Negron. Negron then settled the ball, showed off some fancy footwork to get his defender on his heels, then centered the ball to the far post where Santiago Guerrero rose up and headed it past the keeper.
Guerrero would be responsible for the next Triton goal just three minutes later, as he received a short corner kick, took his time and blasted one off of the bottom of the top crossbar and back down past the line and in for a highlight-reel goal.
“I was very happy with some of the goals that happened today, because we worked on all of those yesterday,” Cardenas said, pointing out his work with Guerrero and eventual goal scorer, Eddie Reyes. “Things that we worked on came into play today.”
LaBelle would get on the board towards the end of the first half after Luis Orduna-Casiano slid home a penalty kick to bring the Cowboys within one.
Just over halfway through the second half, Reyes’ work would pay off in a big way.
The senior found himself at the top of the penalty arc with space in front of him and struck a firecracker of a shot into the top-right quadrant of the goal — the eventual game-winner.
The two-goal lead gave the Tritons some breathing room, but Cardenas felt the team got a little over-exuberant in the final stages of the game.
“Once we took that two-goal lead — we’re up 3-1 — you’ve got to be composed,” Cardenas said. “They got to come out and they’ve got to chase you. Instead, it seemed like we were the ones rushing and trying to make things happen. Even in the last three of four minutes, we’ve got to be smart. It’s something we have to work on with our kids. As good as we’re playing, we’re still very young. We have a lot of underclassman on the team that are playing big roles.”
With about six minutes remaining (plus stoppage), Orduna-Casiano netted his second of the game to make things interesting as the clock ticked towards the end.
Minutes later, it seemed as if the Tritons would be on the verge of letting their lead slip through their fingers, as the referee gave Triton goalkeeper Junior Ochoa a yellow card for laying too long on a ball he had just saved.
From there, the referee placed the ball just feet outside of the Mariner goal and to award LaBelle a free kick from an advantageous spot.
The referees then deliberated for some time while Triton players scrambled to strategize for the ensuing kick.
When the officials broke their huddle, the decision was correctly reversed to give Mariner a goal kick. Ochoa was forced to swap out.
“My question to (the officials) was, if you’re going to call a delay of game even though he didn’t have the ball for six seconds — which he still could have gotten up and punted it — it doesn’t mean that it’s their possession,” Cardenas said. “It should have been a play-on from our box. Eventually they came together and they decided that that was the right call. There’s no way a team should go from losing the ball to having a scoring opportunity — especially there — so I’m glad they talked it out and did what they were supposed to.”
Cardenas gave credit to LaBelle for its play all evening.
“They made it very difficult, I have to give them credit,” Cardenas said. “Every one of their kids was 100 percent to the ball, every ball — and they were better at drawing the foul than we were. They were very smart with that, very savvy.”
A game that was certainly too close for comfort could be a welcomed wake-up call to the No. 1 seeded team in the region. Cardenas said the team needs to realize that on any given night, anything can happen — that any opponent can best the other if the game plan is not executed efficiently.
“At the end, we got the result we needed to advance,” Cardenas said. “We’ll deal with (adjustments) and see what happens next week.”
Mariner will host the No. 7 seeded Nature Coast Tech Wednesday night, at 7, in the regional final with a trip to the 4A Final Four on the line.
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj