Hawks claim Cape Coast Conference title on Shelton’s late goal

Viera High's Gabe Shelton (left), seen here being congratulated after scoring a goal earlier this season, had the game-winner with just over a minute remaining Thursday night as the Hawks defeated Merritt Island 2-1 in the Cape Coast Conference championship game.

The Viera Hawks are getting back to full strength … and that could prove rather dangerous for the rest of the teams in Class 6A.

Squaring off with visiting Merritt Island Thursday night in the Cape Coast Conference boys soccer championship game, the Hawks fell behind in the first half before rallying for a 2-1 victory to claim the conference title.

Jake Medina scored the tying goal on a diving header and Gabe Shelton scored the game winner with just over a minute remaining for Viera, which improved to 14-0-1 on the season.

“I thought we continued to create chances in our attacking third which I was happy about, and the boys stayed resilient until the end to get the job done,” Viera coach Nick Robinson wrote in a text. “However, still a couple of defensive lapses in concentration that could have cost us tonight.”

Viera will no doubt try to get those lapses cleared up as the Hawks try to make run back to the Class 6A state championship game in DeLand.

Thursday was Senior Night at Viera, with the Hawks honoring Ben Elwell; Vincent Riggenbach; Shelton; Caden Sichler; Yordan Torres; Bora Turkman and Max Walker during a halftime ceremony.

It also marked the return of several key Viera players, including Shelton, Torres and goalkeeper Alvey Kaufman, who had been out of the lineup since mid-December.

Missing those players certainly tested Viera’s depth, and outside of a scoreless tie against Holy Trinity, the Hawks showed they have players who can step in and help the team. That should only make the Hawks stronger with the postseason approaching.

Although the Hawks created a number of scoring chances throughout the game, it was Merritt Island that nicked one in during the first half to take a 1-0 lead.

Viera would get even in the second half when Alex Canlas sent a perfect cross toward the far post, where Medina was waiting to hit the diving header.

Merritt Island (7-4-1) would have a chance to go back in front, but Kaufman made a save on a point-blank shot to keep the game knotted at 1-1.

Then, with the possibility of overtime looming, the Hawks displayed the kind of patience they will need to beat teams looking to slow down their potent offensive attack.

Shelton drove toward the middle of the box and passed the ball off to the always dangerous Max May. Not having a shot himself, May sent a back heel pass back to Shelton. With two defenders closing in, Shelton faked a shot to create some room, then drilled the ball into the lower left side of the net to give Viera the 2-1 advantage.

“It was good to be able to get everyone back and get at least a game in of this magnitude/intensity against a great opposition like Merritt Island to prepare and go into postseason,” Robinson wrote.

It was the final game for the Hawks before next week’s Class 6A, District 7 tournament which will be hosted by Melbourne. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Wednesday, followed by the semifinals on Friday with the championship game set for Monday, Jan. 30.

Viera, ranked No. 14 overall in the state and No. 6 in Class 6A (No. 1 in Region 2) will be the No. 1 seed, followed by Heritage and Melbourne.