By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

Photo by:  Mario Casamalhuapa

Jadyn Frost slammed home a rebound at the 19-minute mark of the first half to put Harmony ahead for good, as the Longhorns took the 2023-24 Orange Belt Conference championship with a 3-2 win over Celebration on Friday night.

With the win, Harmony claims their 10th OBC crown in the last 13 years (no champion was crowned in the 2021 Covid year) and also avenges a loss to the Storm in last year’s tournament final.  

“Really happy with the way we played tonight,” Longhorn coach Scott Marlega said of his team that went to 7-1 on the season.  “We have a really young team and are still trying to figure out who our top 11 players are.  But for this early in the season we are starting to gel. Our effort tonight was outstanding and the most important thing is that these kids have the potential to get a lot better.”

Harmony Longhorns
Harmony Longhorns 2
Harmony Longhorns

Still it was Celebration that jumped on top early. 

Just six minutes into the game, Anna Balba dribbled past two defenders and buried a shot from the right side of the box into the left corner of the goal for a 1-0 Storm lead.  It was Alba’s ninth goal of the season.

The lead would be short-lived, however.

A potential equalizing goal was ruled offside at the 28 minute mark, but Lily Glassburn would tie it four minutes later by blasting the ball past goalie Evelyn Juden to make it 1-1.  Harmony would take the lead for good at the 18 minute mark.  Juden would make a terrific save in front of the net, but the ball rebounded to the right side where Frost sent it home.

Celebration would have a chance to tie the game early in the second half. 

At the 27 minute mark, Ellie Armstrong had an open shot from outside the box but could not put it on target.  Just two minutes later, the Storm had another opportunity.  Following a scrum in front of the Harmony net, Balba found the ball at her feet in point blank range but goalie Karla Marrero made a great save to keep it at 2-1. 

Both teams would try to generate scoring chances over the next 15 minutes but the back lines from each team played solidly – recording several blocked shots and continuing to clear the ball out of dangerous situations.

With just over four minutes to go, Harmony would score what appeared to be the clinching goal when Alycia Hizer’s free kick from 40 yards out cleared Celebration’s back line and then bounced over Juden’s outstretched arms to find the back of the net for a 3-1 advantage.

But Celebration would counter less than a minute later on an eerily similar play.  This time it was Oriana Moreno who was taking a free kick from distance and — like Hizer’s play moments earlier — the ball would take a high bounce over Marrero’s head for a goal to cut the Harmony lead back to one.

“Both were shots you never expect to go in, but that’s the nature of soccer sometime,” Marlega added.  Celebration would spend the final three minutes furiously trying to get into position for an equalizer but the Harmony defense simply did not allow them a good look at the net.

For the game, Harmony led on both shots on goal (10-7) and corner kicks (5-2).  Both teams were called for 13 fouls.  “Congratulations to Harmony,” Celebration coach Rebecca Camis said.  “Both teams played a good game, they made one more big play that we did.”

The Storm, who fell to 7-2 with the loss, reached the finals of the week long tournament with a 14-0 victory over Osceola in Monday’s quarterfinals and a 3-1 win over Tohopekaliga in Wednesday’s semifinals.   Harmony, whose lone loss this season was a 2-1 non-district setback to Bayside, had reached the finals with a 14-0 win over Liberty in the first round and an 8-0 victory over Gateway in the semifinals.