Osceola defeats Seminole in PCAC soccer championship for second year in a row

Osceola's Zach Leitz (6) outpaces a Seminole player.

SEMINOLE — It’s always a thrill for area soccer fans when the Seminole High School and Osceola Fundamental High School boys’ varsity teams compete, and their latest match did not disappoint.

In a repeat of last year’s upset, Osceola defeated its rival 1-0 on Jan. 23 to take home the Pinellas County Athletic Conference boys’ soccer championship title. The PCAC tournament pits the top North and South County teams against each other. Once again, the Warriors ranked No. 1 in the South County, while the Warhawks topped North County teams.

The game’s lone goal came when Osceola’s Coby Hirschfield capitalized on a sloppy pass back from a Seminole defender to goalkeeper Shane Dever.

“For the longest time, Seminole was the No. 1 soccer program, in my opinion, in Pinellas County, if not most of Florida, and it took a long time for Osceola to get their first win last year,” said Osceola coach Ian Matthews. “It’s nice to be able to repeat it. I think it shows a lot for our program that we're able to be as competitive with Seminole and match them. (Seminole coach Rick Masi) does just a fabulous job there. It gives us something to aspire to.”

Masi commended Osceola on a “well-played” game but also contends that “it was a game we should never have lost.”

He said, “We outshot them 12-4. We had four corner kicks, they had zero. Our defender made a bad pass back to our goalkeeper. It was not solid. He’s beating himself up over it, but we all make mistakes, and our forwards up front should have had four to five goals.”

This isn’t the first time the teams have played each other this season. With Seminole reclassified due to a drop in enrollment, both teams are competing in Class 5A District 10 for the 2019-2020 season.

In their first meeting of the season, Seminole defeated Osceola 2-0 Jan. 8 with goals from Griffin Prestipino and Aidan Berner.

Both teams are strong this season and as district playoffs move forward, it’s likely the Seminole and Osceola will face off for a third time. Masi anticipates the teams will meet each other in the district finals. 

“We both have our semifinals to get through, but I imagine it will be Seminole and Osceola in the finals if the cards line up,” he said.

Matthews added, “It’s very likely, but nothing is sure. We still have the semifinal games. I’m sure Seminole will be looking forward to a rematch. My boys are. I told the boys, it’s like a boxing match. They won the first round, we won the second one and the third, the one to come decides it all.”

The success of both Seminole and Osceola in recent years is a testament to the talent in the area, Matthews said. “Seminole is a hotbed of youth soccer. We have great travel programs and it is a sport that we excel at Osceola. The future does look bright.”

Regardless of which high school players attend, it’s also a tight-knit community.

“It’s great to see after the game that these guys are all friends,” he said. “Seminole is a very close community and everybody kind of knows everybody. They all play together on their club teams. It’s always a pleasure when you see the physical and the fight in the game all ends when the game is over. Several of their players came up and congratulated me and I love to see that in sport. That’s what high school ball should be.”

This is Matthews’ second season coaching at Osceola. Prior to this, he was an assistant coach under Masi at Seminole for seven years.

“To be quite honest, I consider him my mentor. I try to emulate a lot of what he does with his program and his outreach with his alumni and bring that into Osceola,” Matthews said.

Masi said his former assistant is “a good guy and a great coach.”

He added, “He’s done a remarkable job with (Osceola’s) team. They have a great talent pool … and they’re going to be strong for a long time.”

In the Jan. 31 district semifinals, Osceola plays Northeast High School, while Seminole takes on the winner of the Jan. 29 matchup between Southeast High School and Boca Ciega High School.

Last season, Seminole made it to the semifinals of the state tournament, where they lost to Fort Lauderdale 2-0, while Osceola made it to the regional semifinals.