Unbeaten Sunlake faces Pasco again
LAND O' LAKES - It's not every season teams meet four times. However, that's what Sunlake High and Pasco will be accomplishing tonight in the Class 3A-Region 4 semifinal, the fourth meeting between district rivals. "We're looking forward to (tonight) and we know it's Pasco for a fourth time," Seahawks coach Sam Koleduk said. "The fourth time is always the hardest." Sunlake (28-0) knows that first hand. In a similar situation last season, the Seahawks faced Land O' Lakes four times, including in the same round last season before the Gators went on to become 3A state runner-up."I think it's stressful for them being undefeated and everyone is coming at you like there's nothing else," Koleduk added. Sunlake does hold the advantage on the Pirates (13-6-1), outscoring them 12-0, including defeating them 2-0 in the 3A-District 7 final. "I'm telling you right now that I don't think anyone thinks we should be here," Pasco coach Barry Grayling said. "People wrote us off at the start of the season. All those boys, the freshmen and sophomores we brought up. We'll come up with a game plan and try to execute it. You know me, I won't give (anything) away. One game at a time. We just can't score and go blank and we can't afford to do that on Saturday." Sunlake finally got its first real test Wednesday when Mitchell (18-5-3) threw all it could at the Seahawks, even erasing a three-goal halftime deficit, but still ultimately falling 4-2. "They play an ugly but effective game," Mustangs coach Oscar Ubillus said of Sunlake. Wednesday was the first goal allowed by Sunlake since Jan. 11 vs. Inverness Citrus and only the third time it allowed multiple goals in a game (Land O' Lakes, Citrus). "For me personally, but probably the whole team, that was a huge wake-up call," said senior forward Connor Gilboy, who has a Pasco County-leading 60 goals. "We sit back and relax way too much at halftime, and I can assure you that will not happen again." Pasco will bring scoring duo, Michael Mazza and Jose Flores, who helped lead the Pirates to an upset win against Land O' Lakes in the district semifinals, but also led the way in the 3-2 win over River Ridge that got them the rematch with Sunlake. What Sunlake will need more than anything — including its defense, to stand up the quick and elusive Mazza and Flores — is another big game from freshman keeper Daniel Hrenko, who is playing beyond his years. Hrenko was key late in the game against Mitchell, especially since Sunlake was outshot 10-5 in the second half. Hrenko had timely saves and minded the net smartly on numerous scoring chances. Either way, the fourth meeting is the game that truly matters. "From this point," Gilboy said, "no matter how times you see a team or how well you know the guys on that team, from this point on you're not taking any game lightly. You can't underestimate anyone at this point. I'm sure they already know — because I know Pasco knows — but I'll make sure to communicate that to my team."
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo contributed to this article. Correspondent Mike Camunas be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.