The Venice and St. Petersburg girls soccer teams couldn’t have been more evenly matched in the 4A Region-3 Championship on Tuesday night, as the game had to go to a second round of penalty kicks to be decided.
After finishing regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods with a 1-1 tie, St. Petersburg inched out the win in penalty kicks, out-shooting the Lady Indians, 5-4 to end the game and Venice’s season.
“It’s a shame that you have to come to the end like that,” Venice coach Gary Bolyard said of the Indians losing in penalty kicks. “It’s so much pressure on these kids.
“But I can’t be more proud of these kids. They’ve worked their butts off all year long. They left everything in practice. They left everything in this game.”
Shots and scoring were at a premium at Powell-Davis Stadium, as both the Indians and Green Devils fought for possession of the ball for the entire first half.
Venice had a couple of fleeting opportunities to score, and St. Pete nearly took the lead on a one-on-one charge at goalkeeper Ashton Pennell, but the sophomore blocked the shot at the last second.
However, the action would start to unfold in the second half.
Venice junior forward Mason Schilling broke the scoreless tie in the 50th minute by sending in a rebound off a free kick from Kat Jordan near midfield to the delight of a hearty crowd.
But it didn’t take the Green Devils long to counter, as Alexa Goldberg scored on a header off a throw in to tie the game just eight minutes later.
Tied at 1-1 with time ticking down, Venice found itself in trouble as defender Karina Diaz earned her second yellow card of the game in the 66th minute — forcing her to remain on the sideline and Venice to play a man down.
Despite Diaz’s absence, the Indians adjusted their defense and played with focused intensity, sending back ball after ball that St. Pete tried to advance upfield.
Even while dropping a player back on defense, Venice still managed to keep pace with St. Pete, putting three shots on goal in overtime.
“We played 40-plus minutes down a man, and we probably had more scoring opportunities than they did,” Bolyard said. “Those girls gutted out that whole overtime period down a player. I can’t say enough about them.”
After about 100 minutes of fierce competition, the game went to a best-of-five penalty kicks.
Though Venice took a 1-0 lead with a score from Rachel Dalton on the Indians’ second penalty kick, St. Pete had an answer for every goal — finishing the first round of penalty kicks tied at 3-3.
With the top five shooters from each team already used, both teams had to turn to their next round of scorers to keep the win within reach. Venice and St. Pete each converted on their first two attempts, but the Green Devils sealed the game when Goldberg — who scored St. Pete’s only goal — put the ball in the bottom left corner of the net.
“We do, we practice,” St. Petersburg head coach Rui Farias said of penalty kicks. “It’s an awful way to decide a game. This was by far the best team we have played all year, and we play some serious talent in Pinellas County. This was a great game, and it’s a shame for it to end like this.”
The final score of the night sent the Green Devils racing to greet each other in the middle of the field, falling into a dog pile while tears streamed down the faces of several Indians.
But with nearly all of the Lady Indians set to return next season, this is unlikely to be the last time that Venice finds itself with the chance to reach the state tournament.
“They’re all great kids, they all get along,” Bolyard said. “It’s been a great year, it’s just sad to see it end how it did. Anything can happen in PK’s, and it did. I can’t say enough about these girls.
“It’s unbelievable what they did.”