With a 24-match unbeaten streak and, more importantly, the District 3A-13 title in jeopardy, the Ida Baker girls soccer team huddled before the start of overtime in Friday’s showdown with North Fort Myers.
The upstart Red Knights, who lost their only previous meeting with the Bulldogs 5-0 in November, had just erased a two-goal deficit with consecutive tallies by senior Darian Leschewski in the final eight minutes.
“We said it was still our game,” Baker junior forward Gabi Morales said.
“We knew we could still do it.”
It took less than 30 seconds for the Bulldogs to prove it. Morales tapped in teammate Marcela Montoya’s blast off the crossbar to lift the Bulldogs to a 5-4 victory over North at Island Coast High School.
“We knew North wasn’t going to give it to us,” Baker coach Chris Vianest said. “They came after us and our girls earned every bit of this tonight.”
The Bulldogs (23-0-2) quickly grabbed control of the game, scoring three times in the first 15 minutes, including a goal less than a minute in by Morales.
“I was disappointed in the way we started the game,” Red Knights coach Nick Erickson said. “We were deer in the headlights.”
North (15-6-1) regained its composure and got on the board in the 36th minute on Leschewski’s first goal off an assist by sophomore Madison Lampkins.
Two minutes later, Lampkins’ rocket from 25 yards out sailed over the head of Baker junior keeper Angela Christiano to cut the deficit to 3-2 at the half.
“We were hoping to get one but when we got the second one, it was a whole new ballgame,” Erickson said.
The Red Knights had several chances to tie the game early in the second half, but Christiano came up with key stops, including a diving save to rob North freshman Nicole Paquin.
The Bulldogs got a little breathing room in the 68th minute when Marcela notched her second goal of the game on a header off a corner kick by Baker junior Gabby Hallnan.
Down by two goals, North turned up its offensive attack and Leschewinski’s late heroics set the stage for Morales’ overtime winner.
Morales said the Bulldogs, which had allowed just 15 goals all season before Friday, would benefit from being pushed to the limit by the Red Knights.
“It’s definitely going to help us heading into the playoffs,” she said. “North put up a big fight and that’s what every team is going to do.”
Baker will host Naples (15-2-3) in a Region 3A-4 quarterfinal Thursday while North Fort Myers will travel to District 3A-14 champion Estero (18-1-3).