TARPON SPRINGS — Apparently this Spongers team has a flair for the dramatic.
Tarpon Springs (7-9-2) picked the perfect time to notch its first non-district win of the season Thursday night and did so in stirring fashion.
After spotting Bradenton Southeast a 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into the match, the Spongers never lost focus and pulled off an unlikely 4-3 come-from-behind win. Tarpon Springs persevered despite facing a pair of two-goal deficits, once at 2-0 and again at 3-1.
The victory advances the Spongers into a region semifinal match Tuesday night at Jesuit High, which beat Dunedin 8-0. It's a level of achievement not many Tarpon Springs boys soccer teams have reached and that historical fact was not lost on this year's version.
“We just had the biggest crowd we've ever had here tonight and we're the fifth team to do this in the history of our school,” said senior Diogo Rodrigues, referencing this year's team joining the squads of 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1996 to reach the second round. All four of those teams won at least two playoff games. The 1984 and 1985 seasons ended in Tarpon Springs state championships.
“As captains, me Kosta [Pseftelis] and Kous [Peter Kouskoutis], we just really want to make history at this school in our last year,” Rodrigues continued. “We want to be in the trophy case with other trophies, not just district.”
With the way Thursday night started, though, Tarpon Springs' stay in the postseason looked to be a brief one. The Seminoles' Josh Gutierrez scored back-to-back goals in the 4th and 6th minutes and the rout appeared to be on.
“We told our team after those two goals that we've got to get our heads together and play our game,” Rodrigues said.
Tarpon Springs' confidence began to rebound when Peter Kouskoutis got the Spongers on the board about five minutes after Gutierrez's second. The senior got loose on a run down the right side, shook a defender and beat Southeast keeper Parth Patel low.
“I saw that ball, I ran 100 percent to it, it was at my feet and I just shot,” Kouskoutis said. “Good things happen when you shoot.”
Southeast (11-9-2) made the goal appear to be more of an anomaly than a precursor of things to come, however, when Ricardo Gallardo scored less than three minutes later.
That would be the Seminoles' final offensive moment of success.
Tarpon Springs flipped the script after the first-half water break and largely controlled the final 60 minutes of soccer.
Ali Tajik narrowed the Spongers' deficit to 3-2 in the 35th following a corner kick. Tarpon Springs nearly netted the equalizer prior to halftime, but officials waived off a goal because of contact being made with the Seminoles keeper.
Southeast would not benefit from another controversial call midway through the second half.
Tarpon Springs' Theofilos Korfias recorded the actually equalizer in the 62nd after Southeast was whistled for playing the ball back to its keeper inside the penalty area. The Spongers were awarded an indirect free kick that Emanuel Mehas tapped to Korfias, who then blasted a right-footer over and past the Seminole wall and keeper.
Tarpon Springs, with momentum fully on its side, then took a lead it would not relinquish when senior Kostantinos Pseftelis drilled a shot from about 15 yards out.
The Spongers defense and keeper Vasilios Markryllos held up for the final 10 minutes, sending Tarpon Springs into the second-round road match at Jesuit.
Next Tuesday's game will be a rematch 23 years in the making for Tarpon Springs and first-year coach George Hourdas. He was on the 1991 Spongers team that lost to Jesuit 3-1 at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium in the first round.
“That was a comeback that we needed,” Hourdas said of Thursday's win. “This is big to win a regional game. Not many teams here have done that. We're happy right now.”
Bradenton Southeast (11-9-2)
4' – Josh Gutierrez – Goal
6' – Josh Gutierrez – Goal
13' – Ricardo Gallardo – Goal
11' – Peter Kouskoutis – Goal
62' – Theofilos Korfias – Goal
69' – Kostantinos Pseftelis – Goal