Once again this year two panhandle lacrosse rivals faced off and its was Niceville again coming away the victor! This second meeting of these teams came in the District semi-finals Tuesday at Niceville High School.
Unlike the last meeting of these teams, Niceville never allowed itself to get behind in the game after Gulf Breeze’s first goal. This time the Gulf Breeze Dolphins were down 1-3 at halftime but couldn’t pull off a comeback as Niceville did in their last meeting. Niceville’s defensive effort was quite possibly their best of the year as they held Gulf Breeze to their lowest score of the year. Only top-ranked Bolles (Fla’s #3) held Gulf Breeze (9-6) to three goals this year.
Gulf Breeze’s #2 Collin Leveille would get the scoring started within the first minute of the game with an unstoppable point blank shot at the Niceville goal. Niceville’s Captain, #19 Gavin Gifford, got Niceville on the board nine minutes later on a feed from #2 Jackson Kane. The first quarter would end with the score tied 1-1.
Niceville’s second quarter would set the pace of their play for the rest of the game. The Eagles’ “FOGO”, #13 Nolen Gifford would begin to dominate the faceoffs by winning the “clamp war” and help provide Niceville with very valuable possessions of the ball. Niceville goalie, #53 Rhett Thorson, would make outstanding saves on powerful Gulf Breeze shots and then deftly hit a breaking midfielder with a clearing pass to quickly get an offensive advantage for the Eagles. Thorson would end the game with 9 saves on 12 Gulf Breeze shots on goal. Play seemed fairly even to this point but then Niceville had a score by #8 Max Diehl was removed from the board by the referees for still unknown reasons. This seemed to energize the Eagles as #3 Christian Carlee would score two quick goals on left-handed “rockets” to make the score 3-1 Niceville at the half.
As the second half started Niceville continued to throw different offensive “looks” at Gulf Breeze by “inverting” the play of its midfielders and attackmen and it paid off quickly. Niceville’s #9, Jake Ryan, would score within a minute of the opening faceoff with a long-distance bounce shot that got by the Dolphin goalie. But the one offensive change that was hard not to notice was having #3 Carlee play as a midfielder for the entire game instead of his usual attack position. This would offer repeated opportunities for Carlee to play against a short-stick defender instead of the long-stick defensemen he was used to facing. He would “paint” the top left corner for his third goal of the game. Carlee would put pressure on Gulf Breeze all night and lead all scorers with 4 goals on powerful left-handed shots. Before the 3rd quarter ended Gulf Breeze’s #5, Austin Mickler, and #2 Colin Leveille would score to make it 5-3 Niceville going into the 4th quarter.
With the threat that Gulf Breeze might come back to tie the game, Niceville thwarted Gulf Breeze’s clearing attempts with a blistering ride that frustrated their ability to possess the ball. With about 2 mins left to play in the game Carlee’s fourth goal would be Niceville’s insurance against any attempt at a comeback by Gulf Breeze. The game ended with the final score of 6-3 Niceville.
The win places Niceville in the District Championship game against the team they lost a heartbreaker to, Leon High School. That game will be played tonight, April 12, at Leon’s home field in Tallahassee. Needless to say, Niceville is looking to avenge an earlier defeat to Leon in overtime. By the time you read this article that game will have taken place but the result can be found on MaxPreps.