The Venice High girls soccer team is still unbeaten, but perfect no more.
After 80 minutes of an offensive juggernaut being met by what proved to be an impenetrable defense, the Manatee High Hurricanes fought the Indians to a scoreless draw on Friday night in Venice’s final regular season game at Powell-Davis Stadium.
The final score was a shocking result to most observers — especially considering the Indians’ (15-0-1, 7-0) blowout of the Hurricanes (8-6-1, 1-2 in District 5A-8) in their previous meeting at Wellfield Park on Nov. 19. The final that night was 7-0.
When the final whistle blew on Friday, the Indians looked stunned. The Venice coaches did not talk to the media after the game, or make their players available.
There was some talking, however, between benches after the game. The Indians coaching staff felt the Hurricanes’ stifling defensive tactics were cheap. Meanwhile, Manatee head coach George Ameres sniped back in defense of his game plan and his team.
“We’re a very good program and we had an opportunity to play the spoiler, and we took it for what it was worth,” said Ameres afterward. “We’re limited on players and under the circumstances, we had a tactic in mind and we stuck to it to a ‘T.’ It worked, and I’m extremely proud of the girls.”
In fact, Manatee did not have a single substitute. The same 11 players who started the game played every minute.
While the Indians had better than 25 shots on goal, the Hurricanes had but one.
Nearly the entire contest was played deep in the Manatee defensive zone. For much of the contest, Venice goal keeper Ashton Pennell stood near the center line — the most inactive player on the field. Only occasionally was Pennell required to pedal backward.
Midway through the second half, the Indians’ Rachel Dalton rifled a shot from 15 yards out that brought the Venice fans to their feet. To most, it looked like the ball had sneaked under the crossbar and bounced out, but the referee waved off the goal, judging that it had struck the crossbar.
“I just saw it in the moment, so I couldn’t tell whether it was in or not,” said Manatees goalkeeper Tori Blanton. “It was so intense, I was just moving and trying to keep the ball out of the goal.”
Venice continued the onslaught, but Blanton had positioned herself perfectly for every save. She not only fielded several hard shots to her chest, but she was also required to make several outstanding saves.
“Last time we played them it was a little rough,” Blanton said. “We fought like crazy and I’m just so proud of the girls for fighting through the exhaustion.”
The Indians open a new season on Tuesday when they host the Charlotte Tarpons (8-7-1, 2-6) in the opening round of the District 4A-11 playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m.