MELBOURNE — The Tampa Bay area's last shot at a girls soccer state championship misfired Friday night in Melbourne.
Previously unbeaten Palm Harbor University (17-1-4) couldn't respond to Vero Beach's penalty-kick goal in the 31st minute and lost 1-0 in the Class 5A state semifinals.
“Once they got the penalty it's always hard to regroup,” PHU coach John Planamenta said. “[Vero Beach] attacks so well with numbers. We tried to catch them on a counterattack but we couldn't generate the support.”
Officials awarded Indians senior Meagan Notargiacomo the PK after becoming tangled up with a Hurricanes defender. The forward then went top-shelf to beat PHU keeper Rachel Taylor for the evening's only goal.
Although Vero Beach (20-3-1) created more opportunities throughout Friday night's match, PHU was not without quality looks of its own.
- Katie Im nearly lit the scoreboard in the 6th but her shot in the middle of the Indians box sailed wide right.
- Then less than seven minutes after Vero Beach's PK, back-to-back equalizer attempts by sisters Kayla and Alexis Mouton were thwarted by keeper Nikki Illare.
- Alexis Mouton sent a look from the middle of the penalty area off the crossbar in the 51st.
PHU's last-ditch effort didn't produce a shot in the 79th when officials whistled the 'Canes offside before Alexis Mouton centered a header in front of the Vero Beach 6.
At least three other potential PHU scoring opportunities were diffused by Illare coming out of goal to snag balls before Hurricanes attackers could get a foot to them.
Friday was the second time in four years Vero Beach ended PHU's season early. The Indians beat the 'Canes in the Class 6A region finals in 2011.
PHU's 10th state final four appearance may have ended prematurely, Planamenta said, but it shouldn't diminish this year's accomplishments.
“I'm proud of the girls,” he said. “Unfortunately this is their first loss, but they played well. It's a huge accomplishment getting back here and when you make it to the final four you're going to face strong teams.”
Vero Beach now moves on to try and secure its first-ever state championship on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. The Raiders beat Flagler Palm Coast 1-0 in overtime prior to the PHU-Vero Beach kickoff.
St. Thomas Aquinas is the state's winningest girls soccer program, having won 12 titles. PHU's five crowns puts it tied for third with Delray Beach American Heritage, Orlando Bishop Moore and Parkland Douglas. Plantation American Heritage is second with seven.
VB – 1 - 0 --- 1
PHU – 0 - 0 --- 0
Vero Beach (20-3-1)
31' – Meagan Notargiacomo – Goal (Penalty Kick)
Palm Harbor University (17-1-4)
VB – 11 (4 on goal)
PHU – 8 (3 on goal)