INVERNESS — It took Cypress Creek less than four minutes to build a 2-0 lead on Tuesday night at the Citrus Bowl.
But the host Hurricanes regrouped, stayed competitive and managed to stick within striking distance most of the way, though still suffering a season-ending loss to the Coyotes in a Region 4A-2 girls soccer quarterfinal, 5-1.
“I think they played unbelievably well. They took a challenge, they knew this was going to be a very tough game,” Citrus head coach Victoria Ekeli said. “It was a very good team, and they left everything that they had out on the field and I’m very proud of how they played.
“My defense read their attack (after the early deficit) and they were able to defend accordingly, and they were able to communicate that with the rest of the girls.”
Cypress Creek (7-4-1) moves on the face Nature Coast, a 6-2 winner over Crystal River in another quarterfinal on Tuesday, in Friday’s semifinals.
The Coyotes scored in the very first minute, as Allison Souers’ shot was rebounded and put in by Ava Mayer. Three minutes later, Mayer’s kick hit the crossbar and deflected into the net to build the two-goal advantage.
Citrus (8-10-1) cut that lead in half in the 10th minute, when freshman Riley Tirrell launched a kick from roughly 30 yards, perfectly placed over the keeper’s outstretched arms.
“To be honest I thought it was going to go over (the net),” Tirrell said. “But I kicked it with my laces in. It felt pretty good. But luckily it went in, I just thought it was going to go over.
“I was thinking I really want to make this one and to start off with a good game, hopefully we can win this one. But I kicked it and it just felt good.”
The score remained 2-1 throughout the first half despite the ’Canes being outshot 12-3. That remained the theme throughout, as Cypress Creek owned a 22-5 edge in shots. Emma Gilkes kept things close while in net for Citrus, recording 19 saves.
“She performed so well,” Ekeli said. “She actually was not our original starting varsity goal keeper. She actually came up to us from JV when some other things happened, unforeseen events with our other two goal keepers. And she has taken that position and made it very difficult to have anybody else take it away from her.”
Carmen Phousirith scored on a long kick at 35:34, and Souers put in two goals, one at 21:28 and the other with 10:31 remaining, to allow the Coyotes to pull away.
“I feel like we could have done better, more communication, just not watching the ball,” Tirrell said. “The season was actually pretty good. I had a good relationship with some of the girls, we got closer during the season. We worked hard, really hard, and during practices we knew that it was a lot of hard work and it just paid off in the end.”
In their first year under Ekeli, a former star goal keeper for Citrus when her father Steve Ekeli was the head coach, the ’Canes collected their first district championship in 15 years and reached regionals for the first time since 2013.
“I thought this season went so much better than I think anyone thought it was going to,” Ekeli said. “The girls had a brand new coaching staff that they’d never met before. But they took everything that we taught them and they implemented it every single game, and they did better and better every single time we touched the field.”