The Mariner Tritons defeated the Estero Wildcats 2-1 Friday night in the Region 3A-3 semifinals at Tony McKenna Field.
These two teams began their seasons playing each other, with the game ending in a 3-3 tie. Both have matured as a team since. The Wildcats had an extra boost with the addition of three players in the second half of the season, who joined after cross country season ended.
Because of the extra players, it came down to Mariner's "Iron 11" outdueling the Wildcats, who substituted freely.
"Pretty impressive," said Mariner coach Lisa Schwarz. "We played well for a full 80 minutes."
Freshman sensation Holly Fritz scored both Mariner goals. The first came at 22:15 of the first half on a direct kick from just outside the penalty area.
"I got tripped just outside the box," said Fritz. "I saw an opening in the net and hit it in."
Seven minutes later, Fritz sent a crossing pass that teammate Alejandra Muro-Solis just missed. Shortly after that - at 13:44 left -the roles were reversed and Fritz received the cross and struck it into the goal.
"I received a beautiful cross from Ally. I saw it as an opportunity, and struck it," said Fritz. "I was kind of falling as I stretched to hit it."
Those are the 62nd and 63rd goals of the year for Fritz, who now holds the school single-season record for goals and the single-season mark for Lee County.
The Tritons played aggressively in the first half, taking eight shots on goal compared just three for the Wildcats. Mariner led 2-0 at the half.
As the second half started, it appeared the Tritons were in a defensive mode with only two players upfield and nine behind the center line.
"We told them to play safe, and stay on their marks," said Schwarz.
As a result, Estero was able to push the ball into Tritons territory. With 35:04 left in the game, Alexandra Wiley scored the only goal for the Wildcats.
The goal sequence started with a yellow card against the Tritons. The resulting free kick was saved giving Estero a corner kick. That corner kick sailed too high for any Wildcat to head it, but it kicked out to the center where Wiley lofted it over the keeper from 35 yards out.
Both teams had other opportunities to score. With 32:20 left, a Mariner shot hit the goal post. At the eight-minute mark, Wiley was set up at the same spot for a free kick, but it sailed over the goal.
For the game, Mariner had 17 shots on goal and six saves, while Estero had 10 shots on goal and two saves.
The Tritons (23-3-2) advance to the Region 3A-3 finals on Tuesday. Riding an eight-game winning streak, they go on the road for the first time in regional play to face Osceola in the finals.