PALM HARBOR — Alexis Mouton put herself in the right place at the right time Tuesday night and knew what to do with the opportunity.
Host Palm Harbor University was in a tightly contested, 0-0 match against Class 5A District 7 foe Steinbrenner High with time beginning to run out. The Hurricanes had just missed scoring on back-to-back shots, but were set up with a corner kick in the 67th minute.
That’s when Mouton helped make sure PHU didn’t let another opportunity slip away. The senior forward kept her focus in the middle of Steinbrenner’s crowded goal box as the corner kick rattled between bodies and caught just enough of it with her off-foot for a 1-0 lead.
“It was just all over the place,” Mouton said of the sequence. “I think it knocked off about three of our players and three of theirs and then it just came to me. Left foot, toe poke, and it barely rolled over the line.”
Mouton’s conversion followed a handful of near PHU misses Tuesday; something of a recurring theme this season.
“We have an awesome defense and our midfield is great and we have a lot of solid defensive tactics,” Mouton said. “But then we get into the final third and we get a little bit panicked and rattled, especially against good teams like Steinbrenner where they have four really good defenders in the back.
“It’s hard to get balls through, but when we have opportunities we have to put them in. Sometimes it just takes us a while to get one right now.”
Considering how well the defense has played this season through nine matches, though, not much more than a single goal is ever really necessary to win. The only goal PHU (7-0-2) has surrendered came during a 7-1 win over Tarpon Springs.
Shutouts and vastly positive goal differentials are commonplace for PHU teams and defensive-minded coach John Planamenta, but he said a focus of improvement is on offensive execution.
“I’m happy with the way they’re playing, especially defensively because that’s where it starts,” he said. “They control the back and then we start generating some attacks. We’re doing that, but now it’s finishing some quality chances.”
Led by an all-senior back row of Quinn Lombard, Mackenzie Geier and Sarah Raymond, PHU received another suffocating defensive effort against a game Warriors squad. Steinbrenner managed just four total shots and PHU keeper Rachel Taylor was there to save three.
Steinbrenner’s best chance came about three minutes after Mouton’s goal. Tracking a bouncing ball, senior Danielle Eule snuck slightly behind the PHU defense while on run down the middle. Eule tried playing it off her body to gain control for a shot just inside the 18, but Taylor raced out, slid and snatched away possession.
The win keeps PHU unbeaten overall (7-0-2) and in league play (2-0-0). Steinbrenner falls to 5-2-0 and 1-1-0.
In the ultra-competitive District 5A-7, this mid-November contest held significance for January’s league tournament, Planamenta said.
“That’s why we really wanted to try and get this because we want that high seed,” he said of the Jan. 11-17 tournament PHU hosts. “These district games are important so we can climb up that ladder, hopefully, to a higher seed. That’s what we want.”