PALM HARBOR — Fueled by a dominant midfield and two second-half goals, Palm Harbor University got over the region-semifinal hump Tuesday night.
Sisters Alexis and Kayla Mouton provided the scoring to lead the Hurricanes into the Class 5A region finals after getting tripped up at this stage the past two seasons.
“It's great for the girls,” PHU coach John Planamenta said after the 2-0 win over visiting Bradenton Manatee. “The road to get here is so difficult with our district and this region, so they're grateful with each game we get to advance.
“It was one of those things were the seniors didn't want to stumble here again.”
Stumble they did not.
PHU (16-0-5) controlled possession throughout most of Tuesday's contest, thanks to a suffocating midfield and defense. Manatee players couldn't touch a ball without the likes of Alyssa Skryd, Kayla Mouton, Kathryn Huapaya, Quinn Lombard and others impeding their progress.
“We stress team defense and everyone defending – forwards, midfielders, defenders – because that can eventually put the pressure on them,” Planamenta said. “They don't have the time to pick their head up or to pass off to other players.”
After almost 60 minutes of near misses, PHU finally broke through when Alexis Mouton continued her prolonged tear as the Hurricanes' top scoring threat. Manatee (13-5-2) failed to clear a PHU corner kick that shortly found its way to the senior's awaiting right foot. The goal was Mouton's 10th since the start of districts, a span of only five matches.
Mouton's younger sister, Kayla, doubled PHU's advantage in the 71st minute by skillfully dribbling through and around three defenders and beating Manatee keeper Ashleigh Parker. The junior had been pressuring the Manatee defense down the right wing all night creating opportunities and said it was nice to be on the finishing end of a score Tuesday.
"I'm playing right-mid a lot so I usually send the ball in to girls," Kayla Mouton said. "It's good to finally have one for myself."
It's also something Planamenta's been steadily working into the 'Canes attack.
“She's really getting more and more involved in the attack, which is exciting,” he said. “She's so dangerous. She's a girl we play at outside mid, up top, just where we need her for the game.
“She's really understanding the game, reading it well, knowing when to make runs, getting there first to get the first touch in behind defenders, things like that.”
Despite the lopsided possession battle, Manatee nearly caught PHU late in the first half. A well-played through ball down the middle to Meredith Roberts might have resulted in a clean look on frame but PHU keeper Rachel Taylor raced out to break up the opportunity, colliding with Roberts and another PHU defender in the process.
Following the victory, the Hurricanes got a little more good news.
Rather than having to travel to previously unbeaten Newsome High this Friday night for the region final. PHU will get to host Lakeland George Jenkins, which played Newsome to a scoreless tie and prevailed in penalty kicks.
It will be PHU's 10th straight home match, a run that stretches back to Dec. 3's road game at Plant High.
MHS – 0 - 0 --- 0
PHU – 0 - 2 --- 2
Palm Harbor University (16-0-5)
58' – Alexis Mouton – Goal
71' – Kayla Mouton – Goal (Assist: Katie Im)
MHS – 7 (2 on goal)
PHU – 16 (9 on goal)