AUBURNDALE - Before every soccer match, FHSAA officials inspect each team for any illegal equipment. The goal is to ensure that both teams are legally and safely equipped so that no player is endangered and that neither side has an unfair advantage.
That was unfortunate for Poinciana, because the Eagles needed all the help they could get.
Sebring trounced the Eagles Monday night in the first round of the Class 3A-District 11 boys soccer tournament, thumping them by a score of 5-0 at the Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale. The Blue Streaks got two goals apiece from Larry Gilchrist and Austin Westergom, while Wesley Koning added the final dagger late in the second half.
"It was a good win," said Sebring coach Keith Bowyer. "But early in the match, I was impressed with Poinciana. They really came out strong and put us under pressure. We definitely had to come and play. But once we broke that dam open, things started to happen for us."
The win improved Sebring to 7-7-2 on the season overall and 5-3-1 in district play. Poinciana dropped to 1-13-4 and 1-8-2. The Streaks played Lake Wales in the district semifinals Tuesday night. Results were not available at press time.
Sebring was tentative at the outset of Monday's match. Poinciana easily controlled possession of the ball and even had a handful of shots on goal. But the Streaks were just getting warmed up.
"The Eagles came out and tried to put one away on us early," Bowyer said. "They were really aggressive. But I was pretty confident about the night going forward."
Sebring's players seemingly picked up on Bowyer's poise from the sidelines, as Gilchrist charged towards Poinciana's keeper and blasted a kick into the back of the net at the 16th minute. Only 30 seconds later, Westergom took a pass from Koning and headed it off the goal's crossbar. unfazed, he calmly collected the rebound and tapped the ball into the left side of the goal.
In less than a one-minute span, Sebring had control of the game.
And in the 41st minute, the Streaks added a third goal when Gilchrist headed the ball in off of a perfectly placed cross kick from Mitchell Winslow.
Trailing 3-0 in the blink of an eye, Poinciana's morale deflated like a punctured balloon.
Sensing the Eagles were wounded, the Streaks struck again at the 52nd minute when Westergom added his second goal to push Sebring's lead to 4-0.
The rest of the match was little more than a formality from there. Sebring added its final goal at the 72nd minute when Koning booted in a left-footed goal to make it 5-0.
"During the season, we've either really been on and we score a lot of goals, or we're off," Bowyer said of his team's play this season. "But we know we need to peak this week. I've been preaching that process and it seems like we're starting to. But we really want to peak on Thursday."
During the waning minutes of the match, Bowyer got to a look at what he might see from next year's squad. The Streaks played most of its reserve and junior varsity during the final 20 minutes. Goalkeeper Noah Walters made to impressive saves to preserve the shutout, taking one shot in his chest while deflecting two more with his hands.
"The final 20 minutes were pretty exciting," Bowyer said. "I had some JV players out there, as well as some reserves. The last stretch of the second half was like its own game, as both squads sent its younger players out. It was nice, because I got a chance to see what we'll be working with next year."