By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Instead of the Tarpons making a late push to tie the game, the Pirates put it away in the closing moments.
Jeremiah Ruth’s goal in stoppage time finished off a 3-1 victory for Port Charlotte over Charlotte at home. Warner Mendia and Noah Couto also scored goals for the Pirates while goalkeeper Hunter Cole finished with four saves — all in the second half – to send Port Charlotte’s eight seniors out with a win on Senior Night.
The Pirates (12-5-2) clung to a one-goal lead for the final nine minutes after Donal Rateau scored a goal to make the score 2-1 in the 71st minute. But Ruth, who was inches away from multiple goals in the loss to North Port Tuesday night, finally converted late to close out the Tarpons (3-12).
Couto quickly tapped a corner kick to Ruth, who did the rest with his feet, dribbling down the end line to the net before drilling the ball by Charlotte goalkeeper Jason Gaudemer, who put up a valiant effort with 11 saves on 26 shots.
“Jeremiah had not scored in awhile so he was looking for a goal tonight,” Port Charlotte coach Joe Roca said. “As a matter of fact, he was looking for a goal in North Port the whole night. He kept the ball. He was trying to get a goal and finally tonight he did.”
Despite a scoreless first half, Port Charlotte controlled possession most of the night and outshot Charlotte 26-8. The Pirates finally struck less than a minute into the second half when Joel Requena sent a pass towards the back post to Mendia, who finished for a 1-0 lead.
Mendia, a freshman, found himself with extra playing time as Nate Ruth, Hayden Wilder and Connor Gerofsky continue to deal with injuries. Ruth (sore back) only played a portion of the first half while Wilder started the first and second halves before sitting due to illness. Gerofsky didn’t even play as he continues to rest a sore back.
“In the second half I basically told them to be more aggressive up top. We weren’t being aggressive but I told them just spread out, somebody is going to score,” Roca said. “I asked Warner to get in there and told him I don’t care what you do. They don’t even know who you are. He said ‘okay coach’ and he did. We moved Joel from the back to midfield to make things happen and that’s what happened on the first goal.”
Couto made it 2-0 in the 66th minute after taking a long pass from Ruth and finishing it near the top of the penalty box. But Charlotte continued to fight despite not taking a shot on goal in the second half until the 68th minute, finally striking on Donal’s goal courtesy of an assist from Kaden Howell less than three minutes later.
“Not to talk about the scoreboard, but the way we played was the best game I’ve ever coached here,” Charlotte coach Alex Lebeau said. “We played excellent soccer. We were just matched, that was the only problem. Aside from putting it in the back of the net, I’m really, really pleased with these guys. I’ve never been happier with a loss, to Port Charlotte of all things. It sounds bad, but I was really proud of the way they played.”
The really bad news for Charlotte came in the 48th minute when leading goal-scorer Michael Modlasiak fell to the ground in pain and suffered a sprained ankle. He had to be carted off the field and Lebeau is unsure if he’ll play again this season, especially with the district tournament beginning Jan. 23.