By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Michael Gonzalez got the call last Tuesday that he was being promoted to varsity.
The Port Charlotte High School freshman was told he’d also be starting on Friday against Lemon Bay.
Excitement shot through Gonzalez, but he never saw the field.
He was disappointed, but he finally got his shot Monday night.
And he delivered.
With two starters sidelined due to injury and another absent due to personal reasons, coach Joe Roca inserted Gonzalez into the starting lineup against Mariner and he didn’t disappoint. The freshman scored two goals — as did senior Noah Couto — and the Pirates used a fast start to sink the Tritons 6-2 at home in a District 13-3A contest.
“I didn’t play last Friday so I didn’t have a lot of hopes today but [Roca] put me in, I was really surprised and we played pretty well as a team,” Gonzalez said. “I was excited with the score and the outcome and scoring two goals with an assist. I was pretty happy with that.”
Port Charlotte (5-1, 2-1) scored four goals in the first 27 minutes to put the game away in the first half. Hayden Wilder was the first to find the net in the 18th minute when Couto sent a corner kick into the box and Wilder caught it in midair with his foot — all while running over Mariner forward Horacio Pla — to score passed goalkeeper Jayson Cook.
Couto then doubled the lead less than two minutes later on an assist from Gonzalez before the freshman tripled it in the 24th minute when he corralled a throw-in from Tariq Chase and beat Cook for his first career goal.
“It sounds a little dramatic but I had a feeling and said, ‘I’m going to score this one,’ and I got lucky,” Gonzalez said. “Tariq threw it over, it bounced, I got it with my chest and kind of blacked out and scored.”
Derek Botts, a senior, then scored his first career goal in the 27th minute to put the Pirates (5-1, 2-1) up 4-0 before the Tritons (4-2-1, 1-1) knew what hit them.
“I told them at the beginning of the game that you have to start fast. You can’t slow down. You’ve got to take it to them at the beginning,” Roca said.
The story of the game was simple: one team made the most of its opportunities while the other didn’t. Mariner actually outshot Port Charlotte 28-14 but was continually thwarted by Port Charlotte goalkeeper Hunter Cole, who finished with 11 saves.
The Pirates put together the victory despite not having three seniors in the lineup. BJ Nicholas (groin pull) and Joel Requena (concussion protocol) missed the match due to injury and Mathew McGee wasn’t in action due to personal reasons.
Yet, thanks to players like Gonzalez, the Pirates didn’t have a problem.
“The fact that some of our key players weren’t able to show up, we knew that we had to play harder than what was expected of us and the other team thought that we were going to be an easy win but I guess we proved them incorrect,” Gonzalez said.
Couto later scored his second goal in the 52nd minute on an assist from Wilder to push the lead to 5-0. It was a rough night for Cook, who finished with just four saves.
The only mistakes the Pirates made in the game were on the defensive end on balls they failed to clear away. Leonardo Perez was able to score Mariner’s first goal in the 57th minute off of a corner kick that should’ve been cleared, and Hunter Rees scored another in the 76th minute when he followed up a shot by Robert Franco that bounced off the crossbar after the ball had been in traffic following a throw-in.
Jeremiah Ruth nearly had Port Charlotte’s sixth goal in the 78th minute but his shot ricocheted off the left post and right to Gonzalez, who put it away for his second goal.
His performance was beyond impressive to Roca.
“He’s a kid that basically sits on the bench and comes in for five minutes here or there but today I kind of looked at him and said, ‘I’ve got to play him and change it up.’ And he performed very well so it was a good night,” Roca said.