For the first time since 2015, the Lady Bulldogs are district champions.
Maddie Barthie and Leilani Wei scored second half goals to lead St. Cloud to a 3-1 come-from-behind win over East River in the Class 6A, District 9 Championship soccer game last Friday night.
St. Cloud got off to a slow start in the game as the Falcons dominated possession for the first 10 minutes of the game. Striker Janessa Gray would put East River up 1-0 early in the game, making a deep run down the right flank and hammering a shot into the top right hand corner of the net for her 13th goal of the season just eight minutes into the game.
Tina Velez had an opportunity to tie the game at the 24-minute mark, getting a breakaway but goaltender Malak Itani came off her line to smother the shot. But just one minute later, in a near identical play, Velez got a breakaway and this time beat Itani to the ball for an easy tap-in that knotted the score at 1-1.
The score would remain tied at the half, as neither team mounted a serious scoring threat.
St. Cloud would go on top in the first four minutes of the second half. Off a set piece, Hannah Archibald sent a corner kick to the far post where Barthle headed it in for a 2-1 advantage. St. Cloud would dominate possession for the entire second half, but some solid defensive plays by the Falcons kept it a one goal game, until Wei took a cross with nine minutes to go and buried it in the corner of the net for a 3-1 St. Cloud lead with nine minutes remaining.
From there, the Lady Bulldogs kept the pressure on – keeping the ball on the Falcons side of the ball for most of the remaining time.
“Think we had a little case of the nerves to start,” St. Cloud Head Coach Shawn Beck said. “But once we settled down we took control of the game. I have to really give it to our defense tonight. Possibly the best game they played all season. They were driven tonight.”
The win lifted St. Cloud 13-6-3 on the season and guaranteed a first round regional home game against Plant City (8-5-2). Harmony (13-6-1) earned an at-large bid to the regionals, and played a Tuesday night game against fourth-seeded George Jenkins (5-8).
In other district girls’ action involving Osceola County teams, Celebration – the top seeded team in Class 7A, District 6 – hosted second seeded Davenport Ridge, but dropped a 5-1 decision. Although they finished as district runner-ups, the Storm did not gain and at-large bid to regionals.