By Kyle LoJacono
The Wharton boys soccer team had outscored opponents 71-24 entering the playoffs, but the Wildcats’ offense dropped off in the regional tournament.
Wharton (18-5-1) was unable to score any goals in its last three contests this year, including the Class 5A-District 7 finals and its two playoff games.
The Wildcats survived the regional quarterfinals Jan. 31 at Countryside in penalty kicks but were upended 2-0 at Palm Harbor University (16-1-4) in the semis Feb. 3
“We had an excellent season and the boys played very well,” said Wharton coach Scott Ware. “It’s probably the best bunch of boys I’ve had since I’ve been at Wharton. The family atmosphere we’ve created out here; I’m happy with the way this whole season went. It’s just unfortunate tonight we came up a bit short.”
The Hurricanes struck in the second minute and added an insurance goal 13 minutes after halftime.
The Wildcats had plenty of possession against Palm Harbor, but the ‘Canes defense stifled Wharton in the final third of the field to prevent quality scoring chances. The Hurricanes had 11 shots on goal while allowing only two.
“They’re very organized,” Ware said. “They don’t lose shape very often. We didn’t get enough boys up into the attack to generate more chances around the 18 and crack that defense.”
The Wildcats were in the game thanks to nine saves from 5-foot-10 junior goalkeeper Keenan Kushner.
“He’s what gives us confidence in front of him,” Ware said. “If we didn’t have him it could have been a different story all season long. He kept us in the match tonight. … He gave us hope and he’s been just a wall. I’m glad we’ll have him back next year.”
Wharton will have to find replacements for nine graduating seniors, including its top three scores. Felipe Desousa set a Wildcats record with 28 goals this season while adding 14 assists.
“I’ve had some good senior classes and this one is up near the top,” Ware said. “They’ve done things for each other and not for themselves all season. Felipe had 28 goals, but he also gets everyone involved and picks them up. They’ll be tough to replace.”
Wharton reached the showdown at Palm Harbor after needing extra penalty kicks to defeat Countryside. Joseph Ferrin buried home his penalty kick on the Wildcats’ 10th attempt to send his squad to the semis.
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