SPRING HILL – It was rare air Friday night at Booster Stadium.
Sophomore midfielder Cristina Passafaro hustled to retrieve a loose ball toward her bench late in the second half against non-conference, non-district foe, Inverness-Citrus High.
As Passafaro collected the ball, she never hesitated in ripping a return shot six feet inside the near post in front of sophomore Hurricane goalkeeper Paige Verity.
Verity, in her first-ever varsity start between the pipes, had played outstanding up to that point with nine saves.
But in a blink, Eagle senior striker Taylor McKinney rushed in and headed Passafaro’s feed into the back of the net at 69:29. Verity had no chance to react, it happened that fast.
McKinney’s team-leading 15th goal of the season was backed by a stifling Springstead defense handcuffing the Inverness crew to two shots on goal in pacing the Lady Eagles’ 1-0 win.
The backline defense paced by Paige Alexsuk, Kaitlyn Duke, Ashley Southall and sweeper Jackie Holtje made things easier for senior goalkeeper Jennifer DeFrancesco (two saves) to etch her school-record 14th shutout of the season.
Friday’s blanking snapped the old school mark of 13 shutouts set by Julie Taylor in 1993-94 and tied by DeFrancesco last winter.
Just as important, for a team that graduated six seniors from its school-record squad in 2006-07, the Lady Eagles managed to tie Head Coach John Bifulco’s 1992-93 school record for longest non-losing skein (16 matches).
The Lady Eagles, who fell at Zephyrhills on Nov. 7 (4-1), stretched their non-losing streak to 12-0-4 since.
Though the Hurricanes (10-4-1 overall) were out shot 20-2 overall, fourth-year Head Coach Chris Gatto was not disappointed with the effort.
“We did good tonight,” acknowledged Gatto, who inserted Verity because his first two keepers (Kelsey Keating -ill; Katie Young-wisdom teeth pulled) were out of the lineup. “A one-goal game is always exciting. I thought both teams played real hard. (Springstead Head Coach) Polo (Furlong) does a nice job.”
What did Gatto take from his team’s second shutout in its past three matches?
“We need to make more shots,” Gatto insisted. “And make more opportunities. You’ve got to turn chances to score into opportunities. (Defensively) Our keeper (Verity) did a great job considering she’s a forward. We’re very happy with the overall effort.”
Meanwhile, along the home sideline, DeFrancesco’s 27th career shutout is two behind Taylor’s career mark of 29.
“The record tastes feels really good right now,” beamed DeFrancesco. “But I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my defense. Everybody worked together to make this happen.”
How much does this mean?
“It means a lot,” declared DeFrancesco. “All the hard work I’ve put in has begun to pay off. The key was we played again like we know how.”
Passafaro’s seventh assist of the season allowed Coach Furlong to improve to 51-12-6 lifetime. He’s 3-0-1 lifetime against CHS.
Passafaro was asked about the game’s lone goal.
“I don’t remember everything but after I hit the ball back (toward the net) I heard our bench cheering,” recalled the 15-year-old Passafaro. “I thought “Look at that?’
“Tonight, I think we played well,” added Passafaro. “We just had a hard time finishing.”
On the receiving end of the cross, McKinney gleamed.
“I love headers,” she declared. “I’ve probably only scored three true goals all season. I score mostly on headers.”
How sweet was DeFrancesco’s school record?
“Jennifer is my idol,” smiled the freckled face McKinney. “I’m so happy for her.”
A post-match Furlong admired the game’s lone goal.
“On the cross, their keeper couldn’t do a thing with it,” said Furlong. “Tonight, was one of those matches, where it was one goal and you win.
“Like I’ve said all year long, our defense has been solid,” Furlong insisted. “So far, we’re undefeated at home (9-0-1). We started kinda slowly. That’s natural. It’s our first match since returning from the break.”
What about DeFrancesco’s new standard?
“I feel good for Jennifer,” remarked Furlong. “Its a great to be a senior and leave school with a record. It’s an amazing accomplishment and says something not only about her but about our entire team.”
Springstead 1, Citrus 0
Citrus 0 0 – 0
Springstead 0 1 – 1
Goals – SPG: McKinney.
Assists – SPG: Passafaro.
Shots on goal – CIT: 2, SPG: 20.
Saves – CIT: Verity 9; SPG: DeFrancesco 2.
Yellow Cards – none.
Blue Cards – none.
Red Cards – none.
Records: Citrus (10-4-1 overall), Springstead (14-1-4 overall).
Sports Editor Tony Castro can be reached at (352) 544-5278 or online at [email protected]