District Girls Soccer Roundup: Gulf Breeze rolls to three-peat, Catholic ends nine-year drought
Here's a roundup of the Pensacola-area district girls soccer finals played on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
District 1-6A Final
No. 1 Gulf Breeze 3, No. 2 Pace 0
Not too many teams can say that they kept the area's best squad off the scoreboard for a single half.
The Patriots and head coach Chandler Castleman did just that through the first half of the District 1-6A Final thanks to multiple saves from senior goalkeeper Sidney Roest. But once the top seed got on the board, the floodgates soon busted wide open.
The Dolphins scored three goals in second half to claim its third consecutive district title on Tuesday from Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
“First, I want to give my hat off to Coach Castleman. He’s doing a great job with that program,” Gulf Breeze head coach Albert Gatica said. “These types of games, that’s what the Panhandle needs: close, exciting, hard-fought games. That first half was really tight, but we made a couple of adjustments in the second half and that opened things up a little bit.”
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The Dolphins broke the ice on a free kick in the 44th minute.
On a ball sent in from senior forward Meredith Pugh, junior forward Skylar Hendrick established position in the middle of the box for a header. With Roest out of position, the ball floated past the goal line and into the back of the net.
Gulf Breeze later doubled its cushion in the 68th minute. Junior midfielder Hailey Gatica delivered a deep pass to senior forward Ava Matherne, who finished a breakaway to make it 2-0.
Five minutes later, Kylie Gillis put in the prettiest goal of the night. Unlike their previous scores, the Dolphins used a series of passes to build up the field. After a hockey assist from Matherne, sophomore midfielder Emma Fulford found Gillis wide on the right side of the box.
From there, the team captain rocketed a missile over Roest's outstretched hands, just under the cross bar and into the top left shelf.
“I had a beautiful ball from Emma,” Gillis said. “She just played it to me and I had the back post open, so I went for the shot.”
Gulf Breeze wins the District 1-6A title following a 3-0 win over Pace pic.twitter.com/Tk8QipBNi9
— Patrick Bernadeau 🇭🇹 🇺🇸 (@PatBernadeau) February 1, 2023
Gulf Breeze extended its winning streak to five matches on the strength of its 11th shutout this season. The team improved its record to 15-2-1 while the Patriots fell to 10-3-2. All of three of Pace's losses were to the Dolphins, losing by a combined margin of 13-3.
“I think it’s clear that they were the better team, they created more chances,” Castleman said. “Our players played phenomenally well all season, but we lost to them three times and I think it’s a fair result.”
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's match.
'We got other ways to score'
Unable to get on the scoreboard in the first half, the Dolphins coaching staff opted for a change up front.
The team initially started the match with a striker to occupy the Patriots' center back while two additional players were used on the wings to stretch out their opponent's three-back system. After halftime, Gulf Breeze went away from that strategy and inserted two attacking midfielders.
The results were immediate as the ball remained on a one side of the pitch. While the Dolphins finished with three goals, they could've very easily ended with five or six.
After breaking through first, Hendricks had two more opportunities to add her name onto the score sheet. The junior lost her footing on a breakaway and later sent a shot just wide after handling a ball off a corner kick. Meanwhile, Pugh ripped a shot curving inside the right crossbar, but Roest made the stop.
“We were able to control the ball not only in the middle-third, but once we got into the attacking-third, we were able to keep possession and that opened up passing lanes to finish," Albert Gatica said.
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Gillis added: “I think we definitely calmed down and tried to bring each other up. From a tactical standpoint, I think we started making runs off of each other better and that’s what did it for us.”
As for the attempts that did reach the back of the net, the Dolphins proved why they possess one of the most versatile attacks in the state. They beat the Patriots with a set piece, a deep ball and a methodical build through passes on the ground.
“Once one avenue is shut down for us, we got other ways to score. That’s going to take us a long way, along with our defense," Albert Gatica said. "We’ve got a pretty stingy defense this year. (Pace) might have had a handful of chances throughout the game, so I credit our defense in giving everyone else the confidence to do what we do, attacking-wise.”
'It’s a growing experience for them'
While Gulf Breeze controlled most of the possession, Pace played a fairly-even first half and made the necessary plays in the defensive third to keep the match scoreless.
The No. 2 seed generated its chances through the counterattack and from pressure by senior forward Ava Grace Wheaton, leading the Dolphins' back line into turnovers. Meanwhile, midfielders Becca Ryan and Emily Good fended off challenges to push the ball forward.
After 40 minutes of play, the Patriots had every reason to believe they had a chance, until, in the blink of an eye, they didn't. Momentum flipped as soon as the players returned from halftime.
Facing an opponent with several girls committed to Division I college programs, Castleman believe his players struggled to ramp up to Gulf Breeze's class.
“A lot of their players play high-level (soccer) year-round, so the intensity of their games are much higher than even high school games. I think their girls are more acclimated to that,” he said. “For our girls, some of them are saying they’re dead tired at halftime when usually that isn’t the case, but that’s just because the level is so high. It’s a growing experience for them.”
Even with the loss, Pace will do something it hasn't done since 2013-14 season: play in the state postseason. The Patriots will receive an at-large bid after entering the week ranked sixth in Region 1-6A.
Inheriting a program that had five-straight losing seasons, Castleman has turned things around, going 20-8-4 over the past two campaigns.
“It’s a lot of progress in a short amount of time," he said. "Gulf Breeze will lose its two best players next year and we hope to close the gap even more. But that’s for another day, we still have a regional quarterfinal game.
“Don’t know who we’ll play, but hopefully Gulf Breeze wins and we’ll have the opportunity to play them again.”
One year removed from a trip to the state semifinals, the Dolphins have championship aspirations on their agenda. They entered district ranked second in the region, third in Class 6A and 15th overall.
“We’re definitely going to keep working on making every practice session more and more intense,” Gillis said. “We know we have 10 seniors and we do not want to go home. We want to make it through to the end.”
If the two teams do meet again, it will likely be in the region semifinals.
Patrick Bernadeau is a sports reporter for the Pensacola News Journal. He can be reached at (850) 503-3828, on Twitter @PatBernadeau or via email at email@example.com.
District 1-3A Final
No. 1 Pensacola Catholic 4, No. 2 North Bay Haven Academy
Now in a role as team leader, senior striker Yana Penzone knew this had to be her time, her will for Pensacola Catholic’s girls soccer team.
She produced at the biggest moment Tuesday as the Crusaders attained a breakthrough feat.
Penzone scored a pair of second half goals, while factoring into the other two scores, as Catholic surged its way past North Bay Haven Academy to win its first district title in a decade with a 4-2 triumph in the District 1-3A championship game at fog-shrouded Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium.
“I feel accomplished,” said Penzone, one of the premier players in Northwest Florida. “I felt this high school season was my year and I wanted to step up for my team and we won.
“I feel like it’s the end of a chapter and I can live happily ever after. It is amazing.”
More chapters await, however.
By winning the district, along with its power ranking, Catholic (14-3-3) will host a regional quarterfinal game next Tuesday (Feb. 7) at Catholic as the state tournament begins. The Crusaders opponent will be determined by outcomes of other district title games and state rankings.
“This is great,” said Catholic coach Mark Yepishen, in his 10th year as girls coach. “This is for every single player who has come through this program that put in the work to show this program Is on the map.
“And it’s great to see a group of girls get together and finally put all the right touches in to show what a championship is about.”
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The win also enabled Catholic to avenge last year’s district title loss to North Bay Haven, located in Panama City.
The Crusaders had won the regular-season matchup, way back in mid-December, in a 2-1 win at Catholic. But this game evolved different.
North Bay Haven stunned with a goal less than three minutes into the game. Catholic freshman goalkeeper Lily Rodridguez initially made a diving save -- one of several big saves she produced in the game. But the ball squirted free as she tried to corral in on the ground and North Bay Haven player was there for an easy tap in goal.
“The ball is wet, gloves are wet and she gets it and tried to grab it and it slipped out,” Yepishen said.
Catholic tied the game in the 21st minute on a terrific finish by senior Alexis Parscal, who instantly redirected a crossing pass from Penzone into the top half of the goal cage. It was an all-in-one-motion play.
“Yana won the ball over there and crossed it back and ‘Lex’ was making an amazing run,” Yepishen said. “Just a great finish. Made great contact. I think if everyone was standing in the corner, she probably would have still scored. A great shot on her part.”
North Bay Haven regained the lead on a penalty kick goal in the final 30 seconds before halftime.
During the break, the Crusaders gathered and vowed a different performance in the final 40 minutes. And they delivered.
“We wanted it more,” Penzone said. “We had a little talk in the locker room. We got together and said, we want this, they won last year, it’s our turn.”
Six minutes into the second half, the Buccaneers goalkeeper slammed into Penzone as both were going for a ball near the penalty box area. A penalty kick was awarded.
Jordan Bartlinski, daughter of long-time UWF women’s soccer coach Joe Bartlinski, took the kick and buried a shot into the corner netting.
“She was fighting through injures to play tonight and has been great for us,” Yepishen said. “In a situation like that, it’s about who do you trust and I trusted Jordan to forget all those feelings and go up there and kick the ball really hard into the goal.”
The rest of the game was Penzone’s showcase.
After being thwarted on great saves earlier in the game, Penzone delivered a kick from outside the penalty square area that slipped through the North Bay Haven goalkeeper’s hands and into the net.
“It felt like a bomb exploded off inside of me,” she said. “It was amazing. It felt like the end, that we were ending it.”
With her next opportunity, Penzone really did end it when coming down the side on a breakaway in the 76th minute, then depositing a shot into corner netting. She now has 24 goals on the season, second-most in the Pensacola area.
Here are three main takeaways from Catholic’s win.
The late-afternoon fog that rolled into the Pensacola area blanketed Catholic’s stadium to the point you could barely make out the other side of the field as players entered for pregame introductions.
There was also a light mist to add to the wet field and thick fog.
“I could not see four or five feet in front of me,” Yepishen said. “It is completely different than what you are used to. Because you practice during the daytime and when it rains, we rarely practice.
“And (players) are not used to these conditions. Everything is wet, everything is slick, the ball moves much faster, so you have to react much quicker.”
North Bay Haven dominated the first-half possession. The Buccaneers kept the ball in Catholic’s side and forced big defensive plays and goalkeeper saves.
That all changed in the second half. A different game emerged.
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“They were shoving it down our throat,” Yepishen said. “They really wanted it and we were reacting to it. We weren’t thinking about what is going to be happening, but we were reacting to what they did.
“They were first to every single ball They kept pressing and pressing.”
Prior to the game, Yepishen playfully reminded Penzone of her first district championship game as a freshman. She was summoned by Yepishen to be subbed into the game.
“At the water break, she comes off and she was having a panic attack,” Yepishen said. “A freshman, big game, she doesn’t know how to handle it. … So to calm down, she walked around the track the whole time.
“I remind her of that story, who you were and who you are now, because you have grown, you have matured and you are a team player now. She pushes all the girls and scores goals whenever you need her to score.”
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: District Girls Soccer: Gulf Breeze races Pace, Catholic ends long drought