MELBOURNE — Blanketed and blanked.
Sunlake High, with an offense known for scoring a lot and often, couldn’t find the net. And for the second straight season, the Seahawks (29-2-1) were eliminated in the Class 3A boys soccer state semifinals, this time 1-0 against Merritt Island at Eastern Florida State College on Thursday.
The Mustangs (22-1) used a six-man defense to keep Sunlake, which had outscored opponents 73-18, including 18-2 in the postseason, at bay and limit the Seahawks to only eight shots on goal.
“That was, by far, the toughest defense I’ve faced,” said junior Connor Spencer, who had 26 goals this season. “Everyone they had back (there) was solid. I was being man marked, and even if I was able to turn the ball and get past one defender, there were about two or three other defenders to deal with.”
Sunlake, which has the nation’s leading scorer in sophomore Remi Pimm, who had a Pasco County-record 64 goals entering the game, had a few early looks but never posed a real threat to score.
The Seahawks had 12 free kicks in the first half and failed to convert any into a decent scoring opportunity.
“They had a strong defense,” said Sunlake junior Cobi Shirmo, who had 24 goals this season. “We had a lot of set pieces and you have to take advantage of at least one of them because that’s what you practice.”
The game’s lone goal came in the 12th minute when Scott Behrhorst poked a cross from Parker Duncan past Sunlake keeper Danny Hrenko, who had 20 shutouts this season. Merritt Island, which won a state title in 2009, outshot Sunlake 15-8 in the game.
“It seemed like we were tentative with this team and made them seem better than what they were,” Sunlake senior defender Colin Armstrong said. “We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities and we started getting it together there at the end, but it was too little, too late by then.”
In the end, Merritt Island’s defense held Sunlake’s top three goal scorers — Pimm, Spencer and Shirmo — to only three shots combined and played better ball possession.
“I thought we played better in the second half, but they dominated coverage,” Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk said. “They had two guys on Remi, two guys on Connor. We did come out a little tentative and the nervous energy got to us, but that defense shows why they’ve given up so few goals.”
Sunlake loses only five senior starters and will return three players who combined for 114 goals this season.
“We’re still very talented and going to be very talented,” Shirmo said. “We just need to come back twice as strong and win it all next year. That’s what you do your senior year.”