WEEKI WACHEE - For the fourth time in nine attempts, Citrus High celebrated as boys soccer district champion.
Golden Hurricane senior striker Josh Marsden, who arrived with a team-best 27 goals and 14 assists, poured in three goals and chipped in an assist to pace the second-seeded Citrus County crew past fourth-seeded Nature Coast Technical at the Weeki Wachee Hornets' Nest Friday night, 5-2.
As the Class 3A, District 7 champions, the 'Canes (17-3-1) will host next Thursday's 3A-Region II quarterfinal at the Citrus Bowl against 3A-8 runner-up Land O' Lakes.
The Gators fell at the hands of archrival and top-seeded Sunlake at Gulf's Des Little Stadium in New Port Richey, also on Friday, 3-1.
The Hurricanes' fifth straight win sealed back-to-back district crowns while the Sharks (12-12-0) dropped their first district title tilt since Feb. 6, 2005's 3A-6 loss to the host Pasco Pirates at W.F. Edwards Stadium, 6-0.
CHS benefitted early from a Shark miscue in the back.
At 11:47, on a Citrus corner kick, the ball sailed over NCT keeper Chandler Hatcher's head and curled toward the net
NCT senior defender Kyle Draper instantly swatted at the ball preventing a goal.
Just as quickly, Draper was called for a hand ball in the scoring box and was issued a rare blue card - for denying a scoring opportunity.
As a result, the 2012-13 All-County defender was exiled to the bench for the remaining 68 minutes of the match.
Complicating matters, the Sharks would be forced to play a man down for the remainder of the match.
If that wasn't all, Marsden crushed a right-footed sinker into the lower portion of the net on the ensuing penalty kick, 1-0 CHS.
At 18:45, senior defender Sean Flaherty's cross connected with senior Johnathan Kreidenweis for his seventh goal of the season.
Less than 60 seconds into the second half, Marsden boomed an unassisted 21-yard shot the found the back of the net, 3-0.
NCT climbed back at 40:48 when senior Yannis Hantzis connected with freshman Gilbert Delgado.
With 11 minutes remaining, Delgado fed Joey Wright, who launched a shot that deflected off sophomore goalie Dakota Gruzdas' hands for a goal, 3-2.
Four minutes later, freshman Mauro Mondragon's pass found Marsden for his third goal of the game and 30th of the season, 4-2.
Ninety seconds later, Marden's corner kick was tucked home by junior Jake Thatcher to close the books.
"I'm not going to put the blame on a guy who helped us get here," explained fifth-year NCT mentor Ian Wald about Draper. "What happened, happened. It was tough because the blue card is like a double penalty.
"Things obviously didn't roll our way," detailed Wald. "Right now it doesn't matter who we play next Thursday. The good thing is we've already seen Sunlake (a 4-1 loss). I have no regrets; the best is yet to come with these guys."
"We played so much better tonight than we did on Tuesday or Wednesday," evaluated CHS skipper Steve Ekeli, the Hurricanes' third mentor in four winters. "Tonight we played comfortable."
On the game's early momentum gained from the PK, "We call that a professional goal. The poor Nature Coast kid had no choice but to knock it down or it's a goal," said Ekeli. "Our goal coming in was to get one in early to begin both halves - and that's exactly what we did."
On Marsden's heroics, "I'm tickled to death for the young man," lauded Ekeli. "This kid has played soccer since he was 4-years-old. I told him in the first half that he was pressing too much and to relax and let the game come to him."
On the back-to-back titles, "This year was harder because Nature Coast was a much better team," he said.
"Give props to Marsden," insisted the 17-year-old Flaherty. "He pulled through tonight."
On the 'Canes' success, "We passed the ball so much better and that created better chances," commented Flaherty. "Nature Coast is a good team. They put up a real good fight."
"When I saw the kid handle the ball (on the hand ball), I knew we had a golden opportunity to seize the momentum," explained the 19-year-old Marsden.
On which of the two district titles was more difficult, "This one was much harder," he replied. "Every team is different. Right now, I don't care who we play next week - whoever comes in will be an excellent team."
Citrus 5, Nature Coast 2
NCT 0 2-0
CIT 2 3-5
Goals - NCT: Delgado, Wright; CIT: Marsden (3), Thatcher, Kreidenweis.
Assists - NCT: Delgado, Hantzis; CIT: Flaherty, Marsden, Mondragon.
Shots on goal - NCT: 5; CIT: 14.
Saves - NCT: Hatcher (4); CIT: Gruzdas (2).
Yellow Card - CIT: Kreidenweis (unsporting behavior); NCT: Coach Wald (dissent); Remondelli, Hoins, Florkowski (unsporting behavior).
Blue Card - NCT: Draper (hand ball in the box).
Records - Nature Coast Technical (12-12-0), Citrus (17-3-1).
Class 3A, District 7 Boys Soccer Tournament Recap
at Weeki Wachee:
No. 9 Crystal River 1, No. 8 Central 0
No. 2 Citrus 2, No. 7 Hudson 1.
No. 4 Nature Coast 1, No. 5 Fivay 0 (2 OT).
No. 1 Springstead 9, No. 9 Crystal River 1
No. 3 Weeki Wachee 1, No. 6 Hernando 0 (2 OT).
NCT 2, Springstead 1
Citrus 5, Weeki Wachee 0
Citrus 5, NCT 2