Region Girls Soccer roundup: Gulf Breeze, West Florida roll into semis, Catholic, Pace ousted
Here's a roundup of regional quarterfinal matches involving Pensacola-area girls soccer teams on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
No. 2 Gulf Breeze 4, No. 7 Pace 1
The Pace girls soccer team has beaten just about everyone in its path en route to an excellent 2022-23 campaign.
However, there was one program that proved to be the Patriots’ Achilles heel. Again, and again, and again, and again.
Gulf Breeze knocked off Pace for the fourth time this season following a 4-1 victory on Tuesday in a Region 1-6A quarterfinal from Dolphins Stadium.
In the teams’ previous meeting during the District 1-6A Final last week, the Dolphins were held scoreless in the first half before exploding for three goals in the match’s final 40 minutes.
This time around, Gulf Breeze needed just three minutes to get on the board. The home team tacked on two more scores prior to halftime and another in the second half before inserting its reserves.
“Leading up to tonight, our practices during the week were very intense,” Dolphins head coach Albert Gatica said. “We focused on our possession and our quick ball circulation. I think that’s what helped us get on the board early tonight. And then once we were on the board, we just kept the ball.”
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Gulf Breeze senior midfielder Addi Stikeleather added: “When we played them in the district finals and it was 0-0 at the half, we were getting frustrated super easily because we weren’t getting it past. Once we get one in, I feel like they just start rolling in easier.”
Receiving the ball on a one-touch combination with junior forward Skylar Hendricks, Gulf Breeze senior Meredith Pugh got the show started by beating Pace senior goalkeeper Sidney Roest with a shot from the right side of the 18-yard box.
“The early goal killed us. And it was not the fault of anyone,” Patriots head coach Chandler Castleman said. “The best player in the area doesn’t have a good angle and it’s not even a good chance, but she converts it into the side netting. It kind of changed how we wanted to play. We wanted to be able to sit back, but obviously when you get behind in the first three minutes, then you have to chase the game a little bit more.”
The Dolphins added their next two goals via set pieces. And each time, Stikeleather was the one to bury the shot into the back of the net.
The senior captain made it 2-0 with a free kick from more than 35 yards away from goal in the 25th minute. She later added a score 11 minutes later after putting in a loose ball off a corner kick.
Stikeleather with No. 2 off a corner in the 36th minute. Dolphins in control, up 3-0 pic.twitter.com/HIXaua4zem
— Patrick Bernadeau 🇭🇹 🇺🇸 (@PatBernadeau) February 8, 2023
“It’s very encouraging,” Gatica said of his team’s success on set pieces. ”We spent some time on it yesterday at the end of practice. It was still fresh with the girls and they were able to execute what we asked them to do.”
Gulf Breeze added to its advantage in the 55th minute. Getting past a Patriots defender with a cutback move on the left side of the pitch, senior attacker Ava Matherne found sophomore midfielder Emma Fulford in the middle of the box to make it 4-0.
The visitors got on the board in the 74th minute. Senior forward Ava Grace Wheaton ended the host’s clean sheet when she scored on a scramble from in close.
It was the first time the Dolphins have allowed a goal since Jan. 11, breaking a five-match shutout stretch. However, they outscored Pace 17-4 in their four matches.
“I think the result is fair,” Castleman said. “I think them beating us four times is a fair reflection of them being the better team.”
Wheaton added: “(The Dolphins) are the only team we’ve lost to this whole season, so it’s kind of hard to build your confidence when you’ve already lost to them three times. Coach said we all needed a sense of belief, but it’s kind of hard to have a sense of belief sometimes.”
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday night.
Stikeleather strikes from deep
The senior captain had options on her free kick from deep.
She could crossed it into the box. Or she could've passed it out wide. Instead, Stikeleather's target was on goal, and she chose correctly. The senior's blast floated high and over Roest'sout-stretched arms.
From about 35 yards out, Addi Stikeleather makes its 2-0 Gulf Breeze in the 25th minute pic.twitter.com/GTBoYbdU3q
— Patrick Bernadeau 🇭🇹 🇺🇸 (@PatBernadeau) February 8, 2023
"We train for it when we practice," Stikeleather said of her long strike. "I did not have a good practice warming up for it, so I was not very confident to take it.
"I looked at both of our coaches for a thumbs up or a thumbs down and they didn't tell me anything. So I was like, 'O.K., I'm going to shoot it and hope it goes in.' I thought it was going to go over (the net), but I was like 'I might as well try to get it in,' because that's where we take our free kicks when we warm up."
The senior's two goals doubled her output for the season.
While it served as little consolation, Wheaton capped her career by doing what she does best on the pitch, notching her 17th goal of the season and final of her high school career.
"It was really all I could ask for," she said. "We were down 4-0, but at least I can get us a little bit closer, even if it didn't do much."
The senior led Pace in scoring each of the past three seasons, accounting of 32 percent of the team's goals within that span.
Wheaton now turns her attention to the spring where she'll play flag football and compete in track and field, where she'll look to defend her state championship in the javelin.
But in leading the Patriots to their best season in nearly a decade, the senior's contributions won't soon be forgotten.
"She has been the impact player for us," Castleman said of Wheaton. "She was the impact player tonight, our Niceville games, our other Gulf Breeze games, Navarre games and every other game it seems. She will be a massive loss, but I'm glad she stuck with us.
"We couldn't be more grateful. I hope I had a positive impact on her and the memories she formed playing with us this year are something she'll remember for the rest of her life."
After improving its record to 16-2-1, Gulf Breeze, the No. 2 seed in the region, is host to No. 6 Chiles on Friday.
The two teams met on Jan. 7 in Tallahassee as the Dolphins came away with a 3-0 victory. The Timberwolves advanced to the region semifinals after upsetting No. 3 Mosley 4-2 on the road.
"Tomorrow we will have a recovery day and watch film on the last time we played Chiles," Gatica said. "We'll look at the things we did well and look at the things we can improve on."
No. 7 Pace finished its season with a 10-4-2 record and reached the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2013-14 season. The team had a plus-44 goal differential on every team not named Gulf Breeze.
"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get to the district final," Castleman said. "To be honest, with Gulf Breeze coming along, I don't know how much they believed it or I believed it , but low and behold, we got there and not in the easiest way by having to go through Navarre. ... Hopefully, (the Dolphins) get a lot weaker next year with the 10 seniors they lose and I know we are going to be stronger. I know we are losing key players in key positions, but I know the younger players will fill those roles perfectly fine."
The Patriots will lose five seniors to graduation.
No. 4 West Florida 2, No. 5 Bishop Kenny 0
When she was 11-years-old, playing on a co-ed team at Perdido Bay FC Rec, Katherine Stoll volunteered to be the team’s new goalkeeper.
“We had a boy goalkeeper and he quit and I was the only one who knew how to punt and I said I’ll play goalie,” Stoll said. “Gosh, we were so young. My first game, I think we won in a 7-0 shutout.”
She has been making big saves and racking up shutouts ever since.
Stoll, now a senior captain and star goalkeeper at West Florida High, delivered a virtuoso performance Tuesday night by making 14 saves and leading the Jaguars to a 2-0 victory against Jacksonville-Bishop Kenny in the Region 1-4A girls soccer quarterfinal game at Marlin L. Bullock Stadium.
“Unbelievable,’” said Jaguars coach Lem Allen, marveling after the array of Grade-A chances that Stoll stonewalled. “I’ve known Kiti since she was 12. She has been fantastic since she started playing.”
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The Jaguars (11-5-3) got a pair of goals from fellow senior Naomi Fieg, each assisted by senior Alivia Sabata, to provide the decisive margin. In the final two minutes of the first half, Fieg scored her first goal on a terrific finish of a diagonal ball that Sabata sent over. Fieg buried the shot in the center top of the goal cage.
“That was big, especially right before the half,” Stoll said. “I know it made (Bishop Kenny’s) halftime talk different and made them think different when they walked off the field and it gave us a boost and we started playing better.”
Fieg added the next one in the 49th minute when Sabata found her one-on-one with a defender. Fieg then got the ball ahead of the Bishop Kenny goalkeeper and had a tap-in goal.
Stoll had 10 of her saves in the second half, including a sensational diving stop of a free kick with less than eight minutes remaining. Bishop Kenny had a couple shots carom off the crossbar and the rest of the close looks were turned back by Stoll’s skillful plays.
“Her focus, her discipline, her play and her work ethic is out of this world,” Allen said. “She keeps the backline ready to go. She is always talking, she is always communicating, She is saying the right things. It is always good, positive, energy within the team.”
The win sends West Florida High into a road rematch on Friday night against top region seed South Walton, the No. 4 ranked team in Florida’s Class 4A by MaxPreps. The Seahawks (13-1-2) won 4-0 on Feb. 2 in the District 1-4A title game. They are No. 14 ranked in all Florida classifications by MaxPreps and No. 44 nationally.
“They have been a really good program the last several years,” Allen said. “They are going to be a tough match, so we are going to have to use these next two days to really concentrate and get ready for Friday."
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s game.
Feeling the urgency
Stoll does not plan to play soccer in college, so she knows the postseason brings a potential finality and special memories. She wanted the last home game of her prep career to be a keepsake.
“With all my family and friends here, I feel like it would be embarrassing to get scored on,” she said. “But most of all, this was the regional quarterfinals, so it’s like all or nothing, win or go home.
“It’s my senior year, so I want to keep dancing as long as we can.”
It was her eighth shutout this season. Allen said she has compiled more than 100 saves.
Bishop Kenny was routed 7-0 against West Florida High a year ago, but Tuesday’s game was far different.
The Crusaders (10-7-2) controlled the possession in the first half and had several good scoring chances. One of those occurred early when Stoll raced outside the penalty square area to punt a ball a split-second before a Bishop Kenny player arrived to potentially score.
“They probably had a good 60-70 percent possession in the first half,” Allen said. “We had a great gameplan going in. With this team, this season, we are playing really connected together as a team and Kiti is all a part of that. And I think, in the end, that is how we got the win.
“Credit to (Bishop Kenny), They came over here and fought hard. We were focused coming into this game and it was a great win.”
Unity is difference
With nine seniors and many of them teammates from youth days, the West Florida squad has made the team cohesion an important element.
“They play together as a team,” Allen said. “It is a good positive environment. And the work rate is really good. We’ve had some really big wins this season and it has kept the girls going and that is what you need going into the postseason. You need that positivity and that hits home with me.”
No. 5 Florida High 2, No. 4 Pensacola Catholic 0
Doomed by a slow start, the Crusaders saw their season come to a conclusion after falling to the Seminoles during a regional quarterfinal match at Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium.
The visitors scored both of their goals prior to the match's first water break.
"It's always sad for the seniors to see the end of the season happening," Pensacola Catholic head coach Mark Yepishen said. "We had some bright spots where the girls played their hearts out, but unfortunately we made some mistakes very early on and that's what cost us the game."
Highlighted by capturing the District 1-3A title, the Crusaders finish with a 14-4-3 record. The team will lose its top-two players in points as Yana Penzone (24 G, 11 A) and Jordan Bartlinski (15 G, 18 A) each will graduate.
"It's been a great season, probably one of my best ones at Catholic," Yepishen said. "The players stepped up and did everything we wanted them to do. It was really wonderful as a coach to help this group of girls and great group of seniors."
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.
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: Girls Soccer: Gulf Breeze, West Florida stay alive with quarterfinal wins