By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner boys soccer team left the Class 4A-District 8 championship game with a hollow feeling two weeks ago after falling to Sickles 2-1.
The loss prevented the Warriors (17-2-3) from capturing the program’s first district title, but also meant they would travel for most, if not all, of their playoff games.
Instead of giving up on the season, Steinbrenner has risen to the challenge by winning its first two postseason contests by a combined score of 13-2.
“Going into the district finals I feel like in our heads we knew we were already going to regionals, so we didn’t work as hard as we could have,” said senior midfielder Logan Siben, a four-year starter. “We were definitely a better team than we showed, and not winning districts I think opened our eyes, especially for the seniors. We know the next game we lose is our last game. We’ve been busting our butts, and that’s why we’ve scored 13 goals.
“We had the potential to do this all season, but now we’re doing it when it counts,” Siben continued. “I feel like we’re peaking at the right time. … It’s working out perfect that we’re peaking right now, and three more wins and we’re state champions.”
Senior midfielder Derek Gebhard said the offensive onslaught has come from a mindset change.
“Coach (Chad Ebright) has been stressing for us to play our game and don’t let up when we get ahead,” Gebhard said.
Senior midfielder Enrique Barboto, a four-year starter, said the midfielders are also clicking.
“Derek and Logan on the wings and me and Blake (Wilson) in the middle have been really moving the ball well and working good together,” Barboto said. “Derek is really fast, Logan can send the ball in from the wing and me and Blake in the center — it’s just a good combination.”
The Warriors won 7-1 at Davenport Ridge Community Jan. 30 and followed up by beating Eagle Lake Lake Region 6-1 on the road Feb. 1. The victories earned the fourth-year program its first regional finals appearance.
“It’s awesome for us because we’re the first four-year graduating class,” Siben said. “Making it to that next step into the regional finals is great, but we don’t want to let down because we all want a state championship. We’re out to be that team that doesn’t win a district championship, but then goes on and wins regionals and state.”
Siben said the thought of going on the road for the playoffs was daunting at first, but the trips have worked to their advantage.
“I actually think we’ve been playing better away because we have that time together,” Siben said. “When we’re on the bus for an hour and a half people can’t go mess around. We’re so focused on the way over, and then on the way back after the wins we can just have fun.”
Steinbrenner got on the board first against Ridge Community thanks to freshman Brett Wilkosz, but the host tied it at 1-1 before halftime.
The Warriors exploded for six goals after the break, two apiece from Jason Collister and Gebhard and one scored each by Wilson and Cody Lively. Siben recorded three assists.
Steinbrenner led Lake Region 2-1 at halftime on the strength of goals by Austin Labban and Barboto. Collister added another tally after halftime before Gebhard posted a trio of scores to close the game and move his total in the playoffs to five.
“I play left mid and I’m right-handed, so I’ve been looking to go down the line and cut in,” Gebhard said. “I usually pass it, but they’ve been giving me room to shoot, so I’ve just taken it.”
The Warriors play at Deltona Pine Ridge Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. for the right to host the state semifinals against the winner of the Ocala Forest-Niceville game, which would be played Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker