By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Port Charlotte High School girls soccer team spent most of its non-district game against Lely with one hand tied behind its back.
The Pirates sure didn’t play like it Thursday as they dominated despite having one of their players sent off midway through the first half in a 3-0 victory at the Pirate Cove.
Gabby Garcia, Danya Borges and Isabella Reyes all scored for Port Charlotte (10-8), while goalkeeper Grace Stec recorded her ninth clean sheet of the season and 19th of her career in a game that was started 30 minutes late after traffic delayed Lely’s arrival.
Garcia got the Pirates on the board in the 11th minute after Lely goalkeeper Andrea Castillo misplayed a centering pass from Borges, leaving Garcia an empty net to deposit the ball.
Borges scored unassisted in the 22nd minute to make it 2-0. However, the momentum looked like it would change after junior captain Doren Staley was sent off after an altercation with a Lely player.
Originally ruled a red card, the officials changed it to a blue card at halftime, meaning Staley would not face suspension. It still left Port Charlotte playing 11-on-10 for the rest of the game.
Fortunately, coach Chip Stec was prepared, having played a man down all season in practice against the JV team.
“Instead of playing a 3-5-2 we played a 3-5-1 with one forward,” Stec said. “That gives us numbers behind the ball and allows us not to get caught shorthanded.”
That gave his daughter, Grace, the opportunity to expand her game, taking free kicks even in Lely’s end to take advantage of her great leg.
“I let her creep up and gave her a chance to put one in the back of the net,” dad said. “She put it through the uprights instead.”
Stec also made a couple great saves in the second half to preserve the shutout and not allow Lely back into the game.
That helped make up for her uneventful first half, saying she got bored and wanted to spice things up by playing some offense.
“At the half I told the guys I wanted to take some free kicks. My one big opportunity was off,” Stec said.
The Pirates outshot the Trojans (6-9) 18-8 and held a 2-1 edge in corner kicks. Reyes closed out the scoring in the 52nd minute on a free kick from 30 yards out that crept under the crossbar.
The Pirates will play North Port and Charlotte in the final week of the regular season before starting the postseason against Lemon Bay on Jan. 16.
“That’s three rivalry games in a row, so it’s going to be intense,” Grace said.