Cowboys come up one goal short of title game
By Kyle LoJacono
The Gaither boys soccer team made it to the state final four for the first time since 2004, but the squad’s season ended there in a 3-2 loss to Durant.
The Cowboys (19-5-2) were going for the second state championship in program history, but the Cougars (15-8-2) cashed in on two free kicks to take the contest at the University of Tampa (UT) Feb. 18.
“It’s great to have the opportunity to even play in this game,” said Gaither senior Jordan See. “The seniors have never made it to the final four, so it’s an accomplishment to even get this far. We played a quality squad and gave it everything we had. It just didn’t work out for us today.”
The Cowboys got on the board first when senior Zach Wheeler scored in the first minute for his 24th tally of the year. Durant controlled the attack for much of the first half after that, scoring in the 12th and 32nd minutes.
“The first half, I thought we played pretty poor actually,” said Gaither coach Eric Sims. “I think the early goal made us sit back a little bit. So maybe it was the kiss of death for us to get a goal that early. I think we kind of sat back and they took it to us physically. They dominated the game, especially in the middle of the field.”
Sims, a UT graduate, said he challenged his team to win the middle of the field during halftime and the Cowboys came out of the break with renewed energy. In the 60th minute, Gaither junior Jacob Snidle took a free kick from 25 yards out that was put in the back of the net by senior Charlie Delmar, his fourth tally of the year.
The Cougars scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute off a free kick that tipped off Gaither senior goalkeeper John Nardozzi’s hand.
“We had a good goal to tie it up, and the last goal was unfortunate.” Sims said. “I don’t know how, if the goalkeeper was screened or what. Our guys battled back hard and I’m proud of the year they’ve had.”
The Class 5A semifinals contest was the third meeting between the Hillsborough County teams this season. Gaither took the first 5-0 Oct. 16, but Durant won the last two.
“We knew what to expect and they knew what to expect,” See said. “It just came down to who finished their opportunities. They did and we didn’t.”
See is one of 10 seniors on the Cowboys 22-man roster. While the season did not end the way he wanted, the forward managed to see just what the team accomplished this year and during his time at Gaither.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” See said. “I’ve been with most of these guys for four years now. We’ve become very close. We’re a family and the fact that we can end our season going to the final four is really something special.”