SEBRING - Even with the circus in town, the main attraction Tuesday night was the girls soccer match between Sebring and Mulberry.
The Blue Streaks lost a wild shootout to the Class 2A Panthers, as Mulberry edged Sebring by a score of 3-2.
"We had balls in front of the goal that we just didn't take advantage of," said Sebring coach Richie Birdsall. "We were off tonight."
It didn't help that Streaks (6-2) were missing two of their forwards. Freshman Kiersten Waldron was out with a knee injury, while sophomore Lacey Watson was also limited due to nagging aches and pains.
"I had no forwards tonight," Birdsall said. "So for us to get two goals, that's pretty good. And I should've rested Lacey more than I did. That's my fault."
Mulberry (7-2-1) opened the scoring midway through the first half, when freshman phenom Kayla Tillman booted in a goal from just outside the box.
A terror for most teams this season, Tillman's stats reflect the mindset of a scorer. According to Birdsall, she's already had 15 goals on just 25 shots.
"She's a beast," Birdsall said. "We didn't handle her well at all tonight. And she just got three more tonight."
Tillman's scoring prowess was just too much for Sebring to handle. She added another goal near the 20th minute to give her Panthers a commanding 2-0 lead.
Not to be outdone, Sebring's Haylee Peters countered with a goal of her own, sneaking a ball past Mulberry's goalie on a free kick to cut the deficit in half.
Early into the second half, Peters tied the game, knocking in a floater from midfield on a drop kick that sailed just out of reach of Francis Cantillano's hands.
The match was back-and-forth from there, with Sebring missing an ample amount of shots on goal. The passes were crisp, the shots were on target, but the Streaks just couldn't find the back of the net.
Eventually, Tillman broke free of a handful of Streaks defenders, made a few fancy dribbling moves, and booted in her third goal of the night to give Mulberry the 3-2 edge.
Sebring tried to respond, but solid ball control from the Panthers made it difficult for the Streaks to get another scoring opportunity, and Mulberry rode out the final few minutes of the game to survive.
But Birdsall knows tough competition like the Panthers is good for his team.
"You want to play tough competition," he said. "And it's year-to-year in high school. You never know how one team is going to be from the year before."
"We played well pretty much until after Mulberry got that third goal."
That final goal appeared to serve as a gut-punch to Sebring's morale. After battling out of a 2-0 hole to tie the game, giving up another goal late was just too much to overcome.
"After that, we just didn't play the way we could have - it happens. But 3-2 against a quality team, nondistrict, we'll take that."
Sebring's next match is on the road against Class 3A-District 11 foe Auburndale. The Bloodhounds have been a perennial thorn in the Streaks side over the years, and are usually in contention for a district championship.
But after tying against Lake Wales earlier this week, Sebring's 2-0 district record gives it some leeway heading in.
It's safe to say he's made his team well aware of the stakes of tonight's match.
"We need to win tomorrow," he said. "We're still in first, but we have them again next week."
The Streaks won't see Lake Wales until after Thanksgiving, and Birdsall is hoping the team will be fully healthy by then.
"You hope these types of games serve as a wake up call," he said. "Hopefully this gives us a good boost heading into Auburndale."