Resurgent Wiregrass Ranch and Land O’ Lakes chase Pirates
By Steve Lee
DADE CITY — Only Pasco and Land O’ Lakes have advanced to state tournaments this decade. Another thing those teams have in common is opening this season with impressive unbeaten streaks.
Until they ran into each other, that is.
The Pirates, who won that early-season match 1-0 despite fewer scoring chances than the hard-charging Gators, are off to the county’s best start. Right up there with them as legitimate contenders for the Sunshine Athletic Conference championship is resurgent Wiregrass Ranch.
The fourth-year Bulls earned that select status with a 1-1 tie against the Pirates on Dec. 10. Prior to that match, Wiregrass Ranch had never won a game — or even scored a goal, for that matter — at Pasco’s W.F. Edwards Stadium.
That dubious streak ended when Wiregrass Ranch forward Steven Esoff hooked a shot inside the right post to knot the score at 1 and match a goal by Pasco’s Eric Garcia. Both goalkeepers, Wiregrass Ranch’s Ian Sourk and Pasco’s Gilbert Tanguma, played solid to keep their teams in the game.
Wiregrass Ranch also lost to Land O’ Lakes, 5-2 on Dec. 14, but coach Dave Wilson can hardly get down on his senior-laden team. The Bulls were 9-2-2, surpassing last season’s previous best of eight wins.
“We think it’s a benchmark for us as to where we are,” Wilson said of his team’s improvement, adding that Pasco and Land O’ Lakes “are the premier programs in the county.”
Mitchell made a case for being mentioned among the county’s top teams by giving Pasco its first loss of the season. That 2-0 defeat dropped the Pirates to 9-1-1 and made Mitchell (10-1-1) the county’s first 10-game winner.
Finally landing in the loss column in the team’s 10th game cannot diminish another strong start by the Pirates.
“We’re a young team, but they’re a pretty talented bunch of boys,” Pasco coach Barry Grayling said. “They take every game as it comes along. They don’t go around worrying about anything.”