BROOKSVILLE – In the moments after Friday night’s Coaches Cup final, Nature Coast coach Sal Calabrese warned his players not to make too much of the moment.
The Sharks had just become champions of the third annual boys soccer county tournament held on their own field, defeating Weeki Wachee in a rematch of last year’s final, 1-0.
Of course, Nature Coast lost to the Hornets 2-0 in this event back in 2015, only to defeat their county rivals in a return match for the district title, 1-0. So the Sharks are well aware that their work is far from done.
“For me, it’s exciting because, well, it’s revenge from last year. They got us good last year,” Nature Coast head coach Ian Wald said. “Two, it’s on our field so we defended our home turf. And then three, I like this tournament because it gets us ready for districts.
“It raises the stakes over a normal game or a district game, and it was a county foe, a district foe. But it made us play with pressure when there’s something on the line. So we got to see how the boys could do in that situation and they can learn from it for two weeks from now when it really matters. Because what we want is another district trophy.”
The two teams played semifinal games on Wednesday at Nature Coast, with Weeki Wachee (8-5-3) edging Springstead, 1-0, while the Sharks (14-2-1) downed Central, 6-0.
“I told the boys, I thought Wednesday we played technically really good, and I thought tonight our intensity was unreal,” Wald said. “Wednesday our intensity wasn’t good, and tonight our technical ability wasn’t very good. So I thought we were sloppy and I think that if we can combine the technical with the intensity, we’ll be in good shape. But it was a sloppy, ugly game.”
Neither squad mounted much of an offensive attack, although Nature Coast dominated possession throughout. The scoreless tie remained until the 61st minute, when Kyle Reckner’s throw-in connected with Gil Delgado’s head, redirecting into the back of the net.
That was all the scoring required for the Sharks to lay claim to the trophy for the first time. Springstead won the initial tournament in 2014.
“This is just another game to us. Yeah, it’s the county cup. We’re not going to dwell on this win because we’ve still got districts,” Delgado said. “It feels good, it feels really good finishing off strong, carrying my team at the last minute, try to get a header. Like I told these boys, whenever it comes down to it, I’m not going to let them down.
“I just saw the ball and my head, that’s it. It was just my head and the ball. I said, ‘This is mine.’ I’m going to put it right there where he can’t get it and that’s what I did. I accomplished the goal for tonight.”
Weeki Wachee keeper Jake Brooks made four saves, but the Hornets fell to 0-2-1 this season against the Sharks.
“We didn’t play to the best of our ability,” Weeki Wachee head coach Shane Tarbox said. “It wasn’t our best performance the first half and we didn’t pick it up the second half. We knew sooner or later if we kept giving up those long throw-ins that eventually one of those was going to find its way in the back of the net, unfortunately.
“We have these games where we just don’t play to our level, our capability. Unfortunately, when we do that teams take advantage of these set pieces and they get the one goal. Most of our games are lost that way this year. Going into districts, we’ve got to find a way to elevate our play and maintain it throughout the whole thing.”
The Hornets host the Class 3A, District 7 Tournament starting Jan. 18, hoping to turn the tables the way the Sharks did to them last season.
“You always want to try to defend the title whenever you can,” Tarbox said. “Hopefully if things go the right way, we’ll see Nature Coast again in the final for districts and they have to defend that title. So maybe it’ll go a different way for us then.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.