AVON PARK - As the Avon Park boys soccer team continues to rebuild its program, the Red Devils notched a major milestone Saturday afternoon at Joe Franza Stadium. Facing country rival Class 3A Sebring, the 2A Devils fought the Blue Streaks to a 1-1 tie.
The draw pulled Avon Park out of the loss column for the first time this season, improving the Devils record to 0-9-1. Sebring, meanwhile, dropped to 3-4-2. Saturday's tie was also a bit of revenge for the Devils, who lost 3-1 to Sebring at Firemen's Field earlier this season after Avon Park scored the opening goal.
In the girls game, Sebring throttled Avon Park behind four goals from Haylee Peters in a dominating 5-1 win.
"I am very proud of them," said Devils coach Victor Munoz. "Our players are starting to come together and they rose to the occasion. But we need to keep improving."
Despite missing some players due to injury and scheduling conflicts, Avon Park fought Sebring tooth and nail in the first half. The first 10 minutes of the match were a defensive struggle. It looked as if Sebring made the necessary adjustments from its previous meeting with the Devils. But even with controlling the ball for a majority of the half, the Streaks couldn't find the back of the net.
Both teams played evenly over the final minutes of the opening half, taking a scoreless tie into the break.
The Streaks ramped up their pressure on the Devils to start the second half, but Avon Park countered by turning a Sebring mistake into a goal just five minutes in. Edgar Delgado managed to steal the ball for the Devils, and he promptly raced down the left side of the field at a breakneck pace. From 20 yards out, he blasted a shot to the right side of the net, sending it just past the outstretched arms of Sebring's goalkeeper. For the second time this season, Avon Park held a 1-0 lead over Sebring.
And, for the second time this season, the Streaks came storming back.
Only six minutes later, Sebring netted its lone goal of the night to knot the score at one all. Over the final stretch of the game, neither team quelled the others defensive pressure.
The Devils had a fleeting shot a victory in the final seconds, but the ball took an unfortunate bounce. Awarded a free kick from nearly 30 yards away from the goal. Delgado booted the ball at Sebring's goalie who adjusted towards the ball's direction. Avon Park's Martin Maldonado alertly headed the ball, but it went just wide as the referee signaled the end of the game, and Sebring narrowly avoided the upset.
It was an unexpected ending for Streaks coach Keith Bowyer.
"I thought we were still going to win it," said Streaks coach Keith Bowyer. "But it was good to see us playing with some good chemistry again."
While the Devils didn't pull off the upset, Avon Park finally proved that it could withstand the pressure from a talented opponent. Sebring, however, viewed the game as a wake-up call.
"Avon Park was able to score on a breakaway, and last time we were able to come back from that," Bowyer said. "But this time we could not quite come back. I felt in the second half they were playing to keep it a tie and they really bunkered down and did a good job on defense in doing that."
Bowyer also added that the Streaks are going through a mid-season rebuilding phase in hopes to improve team chemistry.
"We are having some issues," he said. "We are trying to get those issues fixed and under control."
Avon Park hosted Hardee in a nondistrict boys and girls match Monday night at Joe Franza Stadium. Results were not available at press time, but check this week's Highlands Today sports section for complete story and photos.