By Jeff Odom
The Sunlake boys soccer team defeated Class 3A-District 7 and cross-town rival Land O’ Lakes 3-2 Nov. 14 despite a valiant second half effort by the host Gators.
The Seahawks (6-0) dominated the first half with their defense, not allowing Land O’ Lakes (1-2) a single shot on goal.
Their offense was a force too, scoring in the 19th minute as forward Cobi Shermihamid headed in a rebound off keeper Tommy Koen’s hands for the early advantage.
With two minutes left, Sunlake made the Gators pay for a costly yellow card when Austin Goble redirected the ensuing free kick from Conner Gilboy in front of the goal for the 2-0 advantage.
Gators coach Mark Pearson said he felt that his guys made costly errors in the first 40 minutes, which — along with poor field conditions — pinned them into a corner.
“The goals we conceded in the first half were unfortunate,” Pearson said. “Tommy couldn’t hang on to the first goal in the sand, and I thought he did as well as he could in that area. The second goal we lost our mark on the back post, and that’s inexcusable.”
Still, Land O’ Lakes would not go quietly.
Less than a minute into the second half, the Gators swarmed the Seahawks’ net and Patrick Lawson sent a cross to Sean Young who found the back of the net to bring the score within one.
Land O’ Lakes hit pay dirt again when Mike Moran tied the game at two off another assist from Lawson, swinging momentum to the Gators.
“They were definitely the better team in the second half for sure,” said Seahawks coach Sam Koleduk. “We’re so evenly matched. I feel like we just had to survive.”
And survive they did.
With time winding down, Sunlake sophomore Conner Spencer hustled his way into scoring position, deked through a defender and fired a laser past Koen for the game-winning goal and his eighth of the season.
“We really knew that we had to step it up,” Spencer said. “I got the ball, turned with it, saw an opening, took (the shot) and ended up scoring.”
The Gators had two more chances to score late, but their opponent’s defense stood tall. The Seahawks blocked a free kick and cleared a shot on a wide open net in the 72nd minute to seal the victory.
“It’s huge,” Koleduk said. “It keeps us undefeated and undefeated in the district. It’s going to be a dog fight for the No. 1 (district) seed. … This was good for us.”
Sunlake hosts district rival Wesley Chapel Nov. 26, the same night Land O’ Lakes is at 3A-7 opponent Zephyrhills. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.