By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — The North Port High School girls soccer team defeated Braden River twice during the regular season a year ago, only to lose to the Pirates in the district championship.
Circumstances were similar again in 2017, only this time, the teams faced off in the district semifinals for the right to play in the regional playoffs.
And this time, the Bobcats had their brooms ready for the sweep.
Thanks to two goals by Alexis Abene, and some late heroics from its defense, North Port defeated Braden River 2-1 in the District 4A-11 semifinals at home Wednesday night. In addition to clinching a berth in the Class 4A regional playoffs, the Bobcats move onto Friday’s district title game against Venice, which defeated Charlotte 3-1 in the district’s other semifinal.
Neither team dominated possession but the Pirates outshot the Bobcats 19-7, with 12 of those 19 shots coming in the second half. North Port goalkeeper Kayla Gordon-Somers finished with seven saves.
“For the last 15 minutes they were coming hard,” North Port coach Bill Callan said. “It was tough for us to even get out of our half. They were playing hard.”
If it hadn’t been for Augusta Purvis, the game would’ve gone into extratime. Braden River upped the pressure in the final 20 minutes, cutting into North Port’s 2-0 lead with a goal by Izzy Vasquez in the 65th minute, before nearly tying it in stoppage time.
That’s when North Port goalkeeper Kayla Gordon-Somers got caught out of position in traffic and Joanne Gigiliotti took a shot into what she thought was an open net. But instead, her shot went straight to the foot of Purvis, who cleared ball out of danger.
Game over. Bobcats win.
“Everyone was just kind of pressuring really hard at the end. It was getting crazy. It was a whole team effort and I’m glad I was there,” Purvis said of her save.
Braden River goalkeeper Macienzie Moritz had three saves, but couldn’t stop North Port’s first shot of the night when Abene gathered a pass from Abey Nottingham in the 14th minute and scored to give the Bobcats an early 1-0 lead.
“I just remember it coming over the [defender] and I stepped back because I saw it was going to bounce over her so I let it bounce over. I touched it wrong so then I turned and shot it and it happened to go in,” Abene said.
Abene then used her head to put the Bobcats up 2-0 in the 58th minute when Arianne Guerra beat two defenders down the right sideline and sent a cross into the penalty box straight to senior, who headed it into the net.
“Arianne worked really hard to keep it down and keep it going down the sideline and she got a cross off and that was it,” Abene said.
North Port and Venice split the teams’ two meetings this season, with each team winning on the other team’s home field. The teams finished tied for first place in the district this season but Venice won a coin flip to earn the conference’s top-seed and home field advantage Friday night.
The Bobcats have never won a district title in their history, something they’re hoping to finally change.
“We’ve made it this far before but we’ve didn’t finish it in the finals so Friday we’ll see what happens,” Purvis said