Trailing 1-0 in the second half on Thursday night, the Venice girls soccer team found itself in unfamiliar territory.
Not only had the Lady Indians not lost all season, but they had never faced even a one-goal deficit until North Port (6-3-2) came to Powell-Davis Stadium.
But the lead would be short lived for the Lady Bobcats, as Indians junior Mason Schilling scored two goals in the second half to lift Venice (12-0) to a 2-1 victory and keep the Indians undefeated record alive.
“This is the first time we’ve trailed all season, and I’m kind of glad it happened that way,” Venice associate head coach Lynley Hilligoss said. “We haven’t felt this way or been in this position all season, so us having to fight and come back really showed the character of this program and the girls who play for us.”
After 25 minutes of back-and-forth possession to start the game, Bobcats sophomore Charleze Borer took advantage of a mishit by a Venice defender in the box and sent the ball into the net.
Despite Venice out-shooting North Port 11-2 in the first half, the Indians couldn’t capitalize. After the Bobcats lost to the Indians 5-0 earlier this season, North Port coach Hans Duque put more of an emphasis on his team’s defensive efforts this time around.
“We were trying to net one to see what would work. We switched the defense in the midfield, and it worked,” Duque said. “We netted one in the first half and held them there, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. They have talent and we recognize that, but you can also outplay talent.
“You have to play as a team, and that’s how you do it. We’re gonna keep experimenting, because we’re most likely gonna face them again.”
The Indians had opportunities to score in the first half, but an offsides call and the Bobcats defense prevented Venice from pulling even.
However, the second half was a different story for Venice.
While the Indians still struggled to convert on their looks, eventually the steady barrage of shots allowed Venice to break through.
Schilling knotted the game at 1-1 early in the second half as a free kick by Kat Jordan from 30 yards out rocketed off the goalkeeper’s hands and Schilling cleaned up the deflection with a timely poke.
“I think it was good for us,” Schilling said of trailing North Port 1-0 before her two goals. “I think it motivated the team because we were all determined and confident that we could come back from that. But yeah, it’s a little nerve-wracking when you’re losing for the first time this season.”
Finally on the scoreboard, Venice kept attacking.
Putting up shot after shot, near misses and tight defense kept the Indians inches away from several goals. With five minutes to go, the Bobcats defense had managed to withstand that onslaught, sending back eight shots on goal and 20 total shots before Venice finally struck for the game-winner.
Indians sophomore Karina Diaz found Schilling racing down the field with a well-timed pass, and the junior forward used her speed to her advantage. Sprinting just past North Port’s defense, Schilling lobbed a shot over the goalkeeper’s head and into the net to the roaring approval of teammates and fans who weathered the cold night.
The junior jumped up and down with excitement as her teammates rushed to embrace her and players danced on the sidelines.
“The rush of excitement was incredible,” Schilling said of scoring the game-winning goal. “The pass from Karina was amazing and all my teammates running up to me was awesome. I’ve never had this much support or ever been on a team like this.”
Following Schilling’s second goal of the night, Venice played a little keep-away for the remaining handful of minutes until the final whistle blew.
With only four games remaining before the playoffs officially begin, Thursday’s win for Venice could serve as a valuable lesson when the games become do-or-die.
“I’ve been talking about it all week, and there’s gonna be that point in the season where we only have that one opportunity to score. North Port definitely capitalized on that tonight.
“But we started working more as a cohesive unit. Being in that 1-1 situation I think really tested the girls and showed them how to dig deep and grind out a win.”