Gallery: Vanguard falls to Clay in regional quarterfinals

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Posted February 7, 2023 | By: Mark Pinson, Special to the Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

There are some who say that soccer doesn’t have enough offense. That certainly wasn’t the case in Tuesday night’s Class 5A-Region 1 quarterfinals between Clay High and Vanguard.

Clay junior midfielder Faith Espino scored two goals and junior Erika Martinez netted the go-ahead score as the Blue Devils outlasted the Knights by a final of 5-4 at Booster Stadium.

The win improved Clay (Green Cove Springs) to 11-4 on the season and moves the Blue Devils into the regional semifinals.

Vanguard, which won the District 4 championship, had numerous shots that just missed their mark and finished the season with a record of 16-4-1.

“It was a very interesting game that was hard-fought both ways,” said Knights coach Jay Fratello. “I thought Clay played better than us in the first half and we probably outplayed them in the second, but a couple of things didn’t go our way.”

Vanguard battled back from an early 3-1 deficit to tie the score at halftime, but the Knights, who had 13 shots on goal, failed to find the back of the net in the pivotal second half.

“We had a lot of opportunities and just barely missed here and there,” coach Fratello said. “The girls played well and fought really hard, but Clay was faster than we thought and seemed to have an answer for a lot of the things we were trying to do.”

Clay struck first as Espino received a pass in front of the goal and rifled a shot into the lower right-corner to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead six minutes into the first half.

Vanguard answered as sophomore Amanda Egan made a nice run down the left side, cut back to the middle of the field and easily beat the Clay keeper to knot the score at 1-1 with 28:54 left in the first half.

Clay responded as Espino gathered a loose ball in front of the goal and left-footed a shot into the lower right-corner to make it 2-1.

The Blue Devils extended their advantage off a turnover by Vanguard as freshman Kloe Burke took a beautiful crossing pass and found the back of the net from 10 yards out to put the Blue Devils on top by a score of 3-1.

Vanguard fought back as senior Kaylee McCord scored on a penalty kick and Egan utilized her speed and quickness to net the equalizer as the teams headed to halftime.

Clay took the lead as an initial shot was stopped but Martinez gathered in the rebound and blasted a shot into the lower left-corner to give the Blue Devils a 4-3 lead with 31:29 left in the game.

Vanguard had a pair of excellent scoring chances sail just wide before Clay added to its lead on a shot that hit the top of the crossbar, bounced off the side post and into the goal with 21:21 remaining to play.

The Knights rallied as Clay was called for a hand ball in the box and McCord converted the penalty kick to make it 5-4 with 4:45 left in the game.

Vanguard, which gave up a season-high five goals, continued to press the action and had a player taken down in the box and was awarded a penalty kick.

McCord made the penalty kick, but a Vanguard player was on the line and the goal was nullified. McCord was given another opportunity but the shot sailed wide right.

Clay booted the ball down the field to waste more time before Vanguard’s last shot, a laser by McCord from 15 yards out, sailed just over the top of the crossbar as time expired in the game and on a successful season by Vanguard.

“I don’t think we played another team that had the overall speed of Clay,” coach Fratello said. “We wanted to keep everything in front of us and there were a couple of times that didn’t happen and we let them get behind us. I told the girls I was incredibly proud of them. We were the only team in Marion County to win districts and advance to regionals and that’s something to be proud of. I’m sorry my time with the seniors is over because they are a great group of girls and were fantastic. I told the underclassmen they have big shoes to fill.”


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