HOBE SOUND — For the second consecutive match, the Pine School soccer team faced the unenviable position of going in the second half without an advantage on the scoreboard in a win-or-go-home situation.
Just as they did in Saturday’s regional semifinal, a pair of second half goals coming from seniors Julian Restrepo and Dakota Schrein made the difference for the Knights as they downed Lakeland Christian 2-0 to advance to the 2A Final Four in search of back-to-back state titles.
A battle of the top two seeds in Region 2-2A unfolded eerily similar to the Knights’ 2-0 win against Circle Christian on Feb. 11 that took place without Restrepo but Pine School was back to full strength Wednesday.
Neither team could find much space going forward to string together passes in the final third the entire first half, which made the first goal of the match even more vital for whoever grabbed the lead first.
It was Restrepo, the Knight center back that netted four goals in the quarterfinals, to make his mark in a big way in the 53rd minute to crack the seal.
On the fourth corner kick in a span of a minute, the Vikings had cleared the fourth attempt away from the box but Pine senior Max Charles drilled a loose ball back into the box on the bounce that created a mad scramble in front and a header back into the goal mouth by junior Sloane Mcilvaine.
Restrepo simply tried to make any contact as the ball fell to him to get it on frame and make something happen.
“I just thought, if I could a foot on it, especially on target, we hadn’t tested the keeper so you know, anything could happen,” Restrepo said. “Luckily, it went through the keeper’s hands and it kind of gave life into the game and to the team. I was really proud to get the goal for the group.”
The match opened up and shortly after, Pine senior Aiden Skelly rocketed a strong shot that was saved by Lakeland Christian keeper Gray Ottman to keep it a 1-0 game.
In the 66th minute, the Knights (12-3-2) doubled the lead as senior Jaxon McAlees delivered a perfectly floated ball up towards Schrein, who got position on a Viking defender and his header sailed over Ottman into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
“I was staying out wide, keeping the right back who went with me and eventually I noticed he wasn’t paying attention,” Schrein said. “Jaxon looked at my side so I took the run in, he played it over and I headed it over the keeper.”
Lakeland Christian threw everything forward in the final 14 minute and did generate a couple of opportunities near Pine keeper and Stetson commit Javier Barbosa but the Knights saw the match out amid tempers flaring late in the match.
By virtue of the Knights being the second-highest ranked team with the final FHSAA rankings before the state tournament began, Pine School will host the state semifinal Saturday afternoon with the opponent and time to be determined.
For the Knights under head coach Staci Wilson, replacing many starters off last year’s state championship roster has been a process fitting in the right pieces throughout the season.
The satisfaction seeing her team fight through two straight matches that were far from decided for Wilson was some validation for many of those new mainstays that they can get the job done when it matters the most.
“It does feel good to have the group know that they can do it and it takes a heck of a lot of hard work to get there,” Wilson said. “After losing so many players from last year, there was a lot of natural doubt that they can do it and I’m glad they did it today.”