PALM HARBOR — Not even temperatures in the low 40s Thursday night could cool off Palm Harbor University's red-hot Alexis Mouton.
The senior forward registered her second hat trick in as many matches, scoring each of the Hurricanes' three goals while helping to beat rival East Lake 3-0 in a win-or-go-home Class 5A District 7 semifinal. PHU advances to Friday's final against Plant, which beat Steinbrenner in the earlier semi, 3-2.
“I don't know what it is,” Mouton said of Thursday's offensive outburst that matched Saturday afternoon's production in a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Alonso. “I think it's because every single year before this we've gotten knocked out by East Lake. It was urgency. This game we wanted to win to show we can do it.”
PHU did it by first enduring an early onslaught from the Eagles, keeping its composure and then finishing opportunities when they presented themselves. The latter of those three elements has been a sticking point all season – until now.
“The first 20 minutes they came out ready, aggressive and with speed, and we didn't,” Hurricanes coach John Planamenta said of East Lake. “We were on our heels and we weren't able to help offensively.”
PHU's early difficulties had little to do with a failure to execute. As Planamenta stated, East Lake (12-5-3) played with a precision that allowed the Eagles to retain control and mount wave after wave of attacks. The Eagles outshot PHU 6-1 over the first 20 minutes, with four of those attempts on frame. But even as midfielders kept feeding balls forward and sophomore Elisha Holmes kept racing down the right wing, the unparalleled back row of PHU and keeper Rachel Taylor always had an answer.
“They were all over us in the beginning,” Planamenta said. “They score a goal and they have some big momentum.
“We played OK, East Lake played great.”
After fending off attacks for the better part of 20 minutes, PHU swung momentum in its direction in the 27th minute. Junior Shalisa Crowell sent a perfectly placed, arcing cross from the right side to the far post for Mouton to finish.
“Shalisa beat a girl down the line and then crossed it over everyone's head and it pretty much just landed on my foot,” Mouton said of the game-altering sequence. “It definitely took pressure off because for the first 20 minutes they were totally dominating the game. That first goal kind of solidified that we can do it and that if we just settled down we could probably get more and stop their momentum.”
The 'Canes didn't wait long to keep showing off their newfound scoring prowess. Less than three minutes later Mouton did it again, this time finishing off a rebound from the middle of the box.
Perhaps East Lake's best scoring chance came following Mouton's second goal. Maggie Amos found Holmes open on the right side but Taylor was positioned perfectly to swallow up the low, well-struck attempt.
PHU's dagger came midway through the second half when Quinn Lombard worked an assist through a crowd to Mouton for goal number three.
Even though Thursday's victory allowed the 'Canes to exact a little payback on their rivals, Planamenta said it's shame either team has to pack it in.
“This shouldn't happen. It's unfortunate,” he said, further that opinion by including Steinbrenner, as well. “With these four teams, two of them are going home now. That's not right. But there's nothing you can do.”
PHU will host Plant (13-3-1) tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The teams' only meeting this season ended in a 1-1 draw at Plant on Dec. 3.
Palm Harbor University (13-0-5)
27' – Alexis Mouton – Goal (Assist: Shalisa Crowell)
29' – Alexis Mouton – Goal
56' – Alexis Mouton – Goal (Assist: Quinn Lombard)