By Anthony VanCourt
The Gazebo Gazette
For the third consecutive season, the Long Beach Bearcats are the boys Class 5A State Champions after defeating the Lafayette Commodores 1-0 Saturday night in Brandon.
Lafayette (19-5) was in its first-ever trip to the championship game while Long Beach (15-2-3) has played in the last six championship games going back to the 2018 season.
The opening moments of the first half saw the Commodores come out very aggressive, testing the Bearcat defense down the left side, but the Long Beach backline led by junior Alexander Mink and senior goalkeeper Liam Sartin was up for the challenge, limiting the Commodores to only two shots on goal in the opening half.
For added perspective, the Bearcat defense had only conceded 6 goals all season to this point.
Despite the early pressure from the Commodores, Long Beach settled in and took control of the first half through the Bearcats’ midfield-maestro junior Vincenzo Jeanfreau who played with a persistent energy throughout the night winning the loose balls and dictating the game in the middle for the Bearcats.
As the first half neared its end, the Bearcats would start an all-out attack forcing the Lafayette keeper into some timely saves. One such save came as Long Beach defender Victor Hilensky took a shot on the half-volley from outside the penalty area that was headed for the goal when the keeper managed to tip it over the crossbar keeping the Bearcats off the board and sending the game to halftime scoreless.
In the second half, Long Beach wasted no time going on the attack from the kickoff as a well-worked passing combination into the Commodores’ penalty area earned the Bearcats the first corner kick of the half.
Long Beach senior Blake Anderson’s corner kick from the right side found the head of Alexander Mink who rose high above the defender, sending the ball into the bottom corner and giving the Bearcats the 1-0 lead.
Now with the lead, Long Beach settled in and matched any Lafayette attempt to change their circumstances with strong, forceful defending.
Lafayette’s last hope came in the final minute of the game when the Commodores worked the ball down the left side into the Long Beach defensive end until the game’s Most Valuable Player, Alexander Mink, promptly shut down the attack with a strong sliding challenge clearing the danger as the final seconds ticked away giving Long Beach their third title in as many years.
Bearcats head coach, Andee Wilburn, the master mind behind the successful Long Beach program, won his 100th career game as a head coach earlier in the season.
(Thanks to the Gazebo Gazette for allowing 228Sports to publish this story)