By Kyle LoJacono
Pasco and Land O’ Lakes high school boys soccer teams entered the Class 4A regional quarterfinals with only three combined losses, and the fourth ended the Gators year.
The Pirates (21-2) took the game against Land O’ Lakes (23-2) 1-0 in Gator Stadium Feb. 3.
“We came with a game plan and it worked,” said Pasco coach Berry Grayling.
That plan – frustrate Land O’ Lakes with lock-down defense and capitalize on mistakes.
“They played very well defensively,” said Gators coach Mark Pearson. “They shut down a lot of our angles and space. We didn’t create as many opportunities as we could.… It wasn’t the most attractive soccer, but obviously effective.”
Effective enough to shutout Land O’ Lakes for the first time all season.
“We weren’t generating enough opportunities,” Pearson said. “It was too few and far between. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s two years in a row we’ve lost our best players. Nathan Dalton we missed so badly tonight. He is our engine and he’s been our motivator. He’s done so much behind the ball and created so much for other players. We struggled for the last week to try and find a way to replace that.”
Dalton was out with a concussion, while Ryan Bowen was missing because of a broken bone in his ankle.
“All of a sudden a lot of our options got limited,” Pearson said. He then added, “I give Pasco a lot of credit. They did a great job defensively.”
While the Gators were suffering through those injuries, the Pirates got back Daniel Corona and Eric Garcia, who missed Pasco’s upset loss to Hudson High in the district finals.
The lone tally came off the head of junior Dillon Dunbar. The goal found its way past Gators goalkeeper Kody Parker. Dunbar said Grayling moved him into the middle of the Pasco attack to take advantage of his height.
“I’m the tallest on the team and it meant there was someone there in the middle for the passes,” said Dunbar, who is 6-foot-2.
Pasco lost to the Gators 3-2 in January, giving Land O’ Lakes the Sunshine Athletic Conference title. Grayling said he thinks that loss actually put more pressure on the Gators.
“We were the underdogs,” Grayling said. “All the pressure was off us a little bit this time. The boys said they had nothing to lose.”
Dunbar said it was very rewarding to get the win because, “It was the hardest game of the season.
“It’s really tough playing in a game like this,” Dunbar continued. “I’ve been on varsity for three years and I’ve never gotten past the first game of regionals before. I’m just happy to get a win in regionals.”
The Gators had several chances late in the contest, including a deflection off a throw-in by Jake Frahm that went just wide.
“I was worried,” Dunbar said. “They’re all taller than us. Their No. 12 (Frahm), his throw-ins are like corner kicks. He throws them so far. I was just hoping to clear the ball out on the first chance. Thankfully we did.”
The Pirates will host the regional semifinals at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8 against Sunlake High. Pasco defeated the Seahawks 2-0 earlier this year.