SEBRING - The Avon Park boys soccer program is starting to bounce back after a few years of adversity on the pitch.
That was never more evident than in Saturday's match against rival Sebring at a wind-swept Firemen's Field, as the Blue Streaks had to work hard to earn a 3-1 victory over the Red Devils.
"We're working on keeping our attitudes positives," said Sebring boys soccer coach Keith Bowyer. "Avon Park is looking much better, you can tell their coach has been doing a lot of work with them over the summer."
Avon Park took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when Javier Maldonado headed the ball into the net.
Sebring pressured the Red Devils for the remainder of the half, but the Avon Park defense stood tall as goalie Brooks Whidden made several saves to preserve the 1-0 lead at the half.
"It was a good feeling," said Avon Park boys soccer coach Victor Munoz in reference to having a halftime lead.
"They want to get better and are progressing very well. We are very confident in what we have established. This was our first game and it was good for us. We did our best, we were a little tight here and there, other than that I think we are a solid group."
Sebring came out in the second half as it ended the first. The Blue Streaks pressured the Avon Park defense and spread the ball out wider that they did in the first half.
"The first half we struggled to do that and Avon Park did a good job at clogging up the center and we kept trying to go up the center and that does not gel to well," said Bowyer. "We are trying to go up the middle too much, so we are trying to get them to spread that field out. In the second half, we definitely spread the ball out wider."
Results came quickly as Brian Westergom scored six minutes into the second half to tie the game at 1.
Two minutes later, Laurence Gilchrist was able to get behind the right side of the Red Devil defense and drill the ball into the left side of the net to give the Blue Streaks a 2-1 lead.
The two played to a virtual stalemate for the next 23 minutes as each team sporadically pushed the ball deep in the other's territory.
With less than 9 minutes remaining in the match, there was a period where both teams picked up the physicality and four yellow cards were issued. Three on Sebring and one on Avon Park.
The Red Devils last real chance to tie the score came late in the match, but a free kick sailed wide of the goal.
Sebring scored moments later off a corner kick that Westergom headed into the net for his second goal to seal the hard-fought victory for the Blue Streaks.
Munoz stated that his team needed to keep their heads in the game, that his players often reacted emotionally when Sebring started getting more physical.
Offensively, he would like to see a little more aggressiveness from the Red Devils..
Bowyer said that Sebring didn't make any major adjustments at halftime.
"I just asked them to do what we have been working on a little bit better," the Sebring coach said. "We are still working on our chemistry a little bit. Everybody is coming together, we just have to keep playing hard and I think we saw that in the second half."
In the girls soccer match earlier in the day on Saturday, Sebring defeated Avon Park 7-0.
Both teams play tonight. Sebring will host the Okeechobee Brahmans at Firemen's Field. Avon Park travels to Wauchula to face the Hardee Wildcats.