LAND O’ LAKES — For the fourth time in five seasons, Lecanto met Land O’ Lakes in a do-or-die regional matchup.
Unfortunately for the visiting Panthers, they lost for the third time in those four meetings, falling 3-0 on Friday night in a Region 5A-2 semifinal.
It was the first time Lecanto (18-4-1) was shut out all season. The Panthers were last blanked by Wiregrass Ranch on Jan. 28, 2020, ending a streak of 26 games.
“Land O’ Lakes is a good team. They shut our offense down tonight,” Lecanto head coach Kevin Towne said. “The last 35 minutes of this game, the girls never quit. You saw it to the last whistle. They shut them out the last 35 minutes. If a season has to end if it can end like that, that’s what you ask for. A lot of pride and a lot of heart the last 35 minutes.”
This was also a rematch of the Feb. 9 District 5A-6 title game won 2-1 by the Gators (17-3-1). It was a scoreless tie this time around for much of the first half until Jordan Green’s pass in front of the net was kicked in by Emily Wild in the 25th minute.
Land O’ Lakes added another goal with 1:59 to play in the half, when a rebound hit high off the crossbar and Teresa Rodriguez was in the right spot to cash in on a scoring chance.
The deficit could have been greater if not for the stout effort from keeper Ryann Stephens, particularly in a first half when the Panthers were outshot 13-3 and she made 11 of her 13 saves.
“Ryann had a great game back there. She really kept us in it,” Towne said. “Land O’ Lakes is a good team. They played really good defense and we did not. We just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”
Less than two minutes into the second half, Sam Lanson kicked the ball from left to right across the goal mouth and into the back of the net to make it 3-0. The Gators, however, were limited to three shots for the entire half.
Still, Lecanto couldn’t put together a rally and ultimately saw its current campaign come to a close on the same field as the last one.
“It was a great season. We lost 11 seniors last year and they come back and made it to the Sweet 16, won 18 games,” Towne said. “Our captains were great leaders on the field. I had a great coaching staff that worked so hard. My volunteer coaches and assistant coaches just work all the time. It was a very good season.
“They work hard. They work hard in practice every day. We had some key players that came back that really anchored us. But we just came together as a team. This was probably the tightest together team that I’ve ever coached. They all got along on and off the field and it was great.”