Citrus and Eastside prep for semifinal showdown

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Hurricane boys vie for spot in Class 3A regional final

David Pieklik

They vowed to make history instead of become history and tonight, the boys soccer team from Citrus High School hopes to continue that history lesson in a FHSAA Class 3A regional semifinal home match against Gainesville Eastside.

The matchup is at Citrus High School, with the winner moving on to the regional final. The Hurricanes and Rams took similar paths to get to the semifinals match that — by all accounts — should be a competitive one.

Citrus (10-5-4) enters the game riding the momentum of its District 3A-6 championship win over Leesburg, and a relatively easy 3-1 regional quarterfinal win over Belleview on Wednesday. With a young team and new coach, the ’Canes have surprised themselves with how far they’ve come.

Goalkeeper Alan Verone remarked after the Belleview match that the team never thought it would make it as far. 

“We just wanted to make history,” Verone said. 

The ’Canes have a chance to do just that — a shot at its first regional championship banner — but they face a strong team in Eastside.

Citrus head coach Phil Journey credits the Rams with being well-disciplined and not panicking when they’re trailing in a game. 

“They do their style of play regardless of whether they’re winning or losing,” Joruney said.

That style of play — according to Eastside head coach Ron Messick — is a very aggressive attack with a strong defense that plays a possession game. The Rams (21-2-2) took the District 3A-5 title last week despite being a young team itself, and lacking a team leader that Journey has also wanted.

The teams haven’t faced each other since the Rams’ 6-0 routing of the ’Canes in the regional semifinals last season. Messick hasn’t seen any game tape of Citrus from this season, and other than talking to other coaches, doesn’t have a scouting report to go on.

Based on what he’s heard and read — including box scores — he said the ’Canes are a scrappy team that can be hot or cold scoring, adding, “If they play their game, it will be a tough match.”

For Citrus, part of that game will be containing Eastside forwards Cheyne Lehinck and TJ Fillmer; Lehinck led the Rams with 20 goals and three assists, while Fillmer tallied 14 goals and 13 assists. Journey said his team has to contain them and keep the ball to the outside, remain calm and when there are great scoring chances, convert them.

Journey said his team has the skill and he told them at the beginning of the season they will go as far as they want as long as they try hard. 

With regional title talk beginning, he isn’t looking past the semifinal match. 

“We have not played our best game in the tournament yet,” Journey said.