WEEKI WACHEE - There will be no all-Hernando County final after all in the Class 3A, District 7 Boys Soccer Tournament.
Only one of two top seeds survived Wednesday's bitter cold temperatures at Weeki Wachee's Hornets' Nest.
In the first of two 3A-7 semifinals, Nature Coast Technical junior Ryan Fontano's header at 57:00 snapped a 1-all deadlock enabling the fourth-seeded Sharks to solve archrival Springstead for the first time in 11 years, 2-1.
Though the teams had never previously met in a playoff tilt, SHS (17-3-2) entered the match holding a commanding 20-0-1 lifetime mark.
It didn't matter that the Spring Hill crew held a career 63-goal differential, 75-12, and had blanked NCT (12-11) 12 times.
Prior to Wednesday, SHS had notched 17 consecutive victories over the Brooksville boosters since Dec. 15, 2004's 1-1 tie at Shark Tank Stadium.
In the nightcap where the temperatures plunged to between 32-33 degrees, second-seeded Citrus evened the lifetime series between with Weeki Wachee at two-all with a one-sided 5-0 shutout.
The Golden Hurricanes (16-3-1), who were held to four shots on goal on Tuesday by Hudson, aimed a game-high 17 shots on Hornet goalie Michael VanSlee.
WWHS (10-8-1) mustered four shots, including three across the final 15 minutes.
"We came in with a disciplined game plan," insisted second-year WWHS mentor Shane Tarbox. "But we never got going. We never worked our inside-outside game and really never showed up tonight.
"I've got no regrets," added Tarbox. "The kids played their hearts out. Sometimes the ball doesn't go your way."
In describing Citrus, "If they play Friday like they did tonight, they'll do well in regionals," he added. "They're a good side that's well-coached."
Citrus freshman Mauro Mondragon opened the scoring at 8:34 following a throw-in by Ryan Dolan.
At 33:00, senior midfielder Josh Marsden was credited with the first of his two assists to junior Erick Vestervall, 2-0.
Less than two minutes into the second half, Marsden fed frosh Matt Rinaldi for the first of his two goals.
Mondragon threaded a cross to senior Austin Wilcoxon, who tucked in a goal at 60:00.
Within 60 seconds, Wilcoxon returned the favor with a peg that Rinaldi finished to close the books.
With the victory, the Golden Hurricanes face the Sharks in the 3A-7 final at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hornets' Nest.
"I'm not used to big things in districts," pointed out the 15-year-old Rinaldi, who furnished his sixth and seventh goals of the season. "Tonight was a big improvement from yesterday."
"It really doesn't matter who we play in the district finals," chimed the 19-year-old Marsden. "District play is always close. I thought the key for us today was we moved off the ball much better.
"Give credit to Weeki Wachee, they're young and talented."
"I'd give us a C-minus for our efforts," evaluated CHS skipper Steve Ekeli, the Hurricanes' third mentor in four winters. "At one point in the season we went 11 matches without a loss. I don't think we've played our best soccer."
On Friday's title tilt, he added, "Nature Coast is a little faster than we are. I see a tough battle."
NCT, which will be making only its second district final - the first since 2005 - opened the scoring on a 35-yard bomb by Colton Hoins.
After collecting a cross from James Leyden, Hoins' third goal of the season arrived at 7:13.
SHS tied matters in an odd fashion.
Senior defender Jubin Thomas' 50-yard kick over the top caught the NCT defense napping in transition. The boot landed in front of speedy senior Frankie Fontan, who applied the equalizer at 35:19. The goal was Fontan's 41st of the season.
Though SHS outshot NCT, 12-6, Sharks keeper Chandler Hatcher kept the Eagles at bay with five saves.
"Tonight was the biggest match in Nature Coast soccer history," insisted the 16-year-old Fontano. "The difference was we outworked them. Coach instilled in us to believe in each other.
"Our next goal is to play whoever and bring home our first district championship."
"Fontano's goal was absolutely incredible," described the 17-year-old Austin Lacy. "He's got ice water in his veins. Hopefully, this win puts us on the map."
On the keys to victory, "Defensively, our four guys in the back locked things down," noted Lacy. "Without those guys we wouldn't have gotten the results we wanted."
"This was gigantic," detailed NCT's fifth-year skipper Ian Wald, an Eagle alumnus. "We had talked about getting our first ever over Springstead. The key was believing they could do it."
On the game's significance, "We've won the right to play next Thursday (regional playoffs)," said Wald. "Now, we'd like to win the right to be district champions."
Wald's MVP was clear-cut.
"Fontano has played as a reserve for us," Wald said. "He's always answered the call with solid minutes. In the biggest play of the game, the ball came to him and he flicked a header. For him to get that goal was awesome."
NCT 2, Springstead 1
NCT 1 1-2
SPG 1 0-1
Goals - NCT: Hoins, Fontano; SPG: Fontan.
Assists - NCT: Leyden, Lacy; SPG: Thomas.
Shots on goal - NCT: 6; SPG: 12.
Saves - NCT: Hatcher (5); SPG: McDuff (1), Correa (0).
Yellow Card - NCT: Leyden, Draper, Hantzis, Coach Wald (unsporting behavior).
Records - Nature Coast Technical (12-11-0), Springstead (17-3-2).
Citrus 5, Weeki Wachee 0
CIT 2 3-5
WW 0 0-0
Goals - CIT: Rinaldi (2), Mondragon, Wilcoxon, Vestervall.
Assists - CIT: Marsden (2), Dolan, Mondragon, Wilcoxon.
Shots on goal - CIT: 17; WW: 4.
Saves - CIT: Gruzdas (3); WW: Vanslee (7).
Yellow Card - CIT: Coach Ekeli, Kreidenweis (unsporting behavior); Coach Tarbox (equipment), Roberts (unsporting behavior).
Records - Citrus (16-3-1); Weeki Wachee (10-8-1).
Class 3A, District 7 Boys Soccer Tourney 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 Technical 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
NCT vs. Citrus, 7 p.m.