Ponte Vedra’s hope to repeat as state soccer champions came to an abrupt end at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University field in Daytona Beach Feb. 10. A pair of second-half Seabreeze goals eliminated the Sharks 2-1 in their state semi-final round matchup.
Ponte Vedra had fought its way into its second straight final-four appearance with an impressive 2-0 shutout win over Ft. Walton Beach earlier in the week – a game that was delayed several hours by thunder storms. Joe Gravelle and Steven Sifontes scored the Ponte Vedra goals.
Against Seabreeze, the Sharks took a 1-0 lead 33 minutes in, when John Hilbert found a small opening between six Sandcrab defenders in front of the hosts’ goal for the score. Prior to that, each team had failed to capitalize on several solid scoring opportunities.
Midway through the half, Cole Tepper’s rocket shot from a sharp angle caromed off the side of the Sharks’ goalpost, then Jack Bingemann’s header rattled off the Seabreeze cross bar. Following Ponte Vedra’s go-ahead goal, momentum seemed to be with the Sharks for the remainder of the half and well into the second, even though the team wasn’t able to finish any of their plays. Still, the chances of the Sharks reaching the championship round looked quite promising.
Unfortunately for Ponte Vedra, with just minutes separating the Sharks from a second straight title game appearance, the momentum shifted dramatically to their opponents. It started with a yellow card infraction call against Ponte Vedra and, while the Sharks were able to withstand the initial assault on their goal stemming from the free kick, they could not survive the next wave of pressure that came moments later.
With 17 minutes left to play, the Seabreeze attackers tied matters 1-1 off a set piece. Six minutes after that, Sandcrabs took advantage of another free kick by converting it into the game-winning goal. In that brief six-minute span, the Sharks’ consecutive title hopes perished.
By virtue of the win, the Sandcrabs, not the Sharks, face Merritt Island for the Class 3A state championship on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Spec Martin Memorial Stadium in Deland.
Shark coach Danny Villarreal had only praise for his disappointed players after the game, citing the incredible accomplishment to make it back to the final-four after losing so many starters from last year’s championship team.
“To have this team get this far is absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “I am so proud of all these guys.”