Kirtland headed back to state Final Four

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STREETSBORO—One of the many text messages Kirtland head coach Ed Bradac received following the Hornets’ 3-2 win over Doylestown Chippewa in a Division III regional championship game on Saturday perfectly summed up the magnitude of the win.

“Thank You.”

Two simple words sent from 2015 graduate Kerri Zalba, whose career ended with a 1-0 loss to Chippewa in the regional final that year. Kirtland’s win on Saturday avenged that loss.

“For me, this was a little bit about demons too,” Bradac said. “I always go back to 2015 and how hard those girls worked. I get emotional about it because I really wanted this for the 2015 team as much as I did 2018 because as a program, that’s where it started in 2015.”

Kirtland’s 2015 team won the first district championship in school history and came one penalty kick away from playing in the state Final Four.

That team paved the way for the 2017 Hornets, who went on to win the regional title and advanced to the Division III state championship game. This year’s squad rode that momentum back to the state tournament but it didn’t come easily.

Chippewa scored the first goal of the game in the 10th minute.

“We don’t panic,” Bradac said. “We haven’t panicked once this year, going down 1-0. We’ve gone down 1-0 against some really good competition. We talked about that. We’ve got to stop doing that ultimately.”

Maya Zovko scored the equalizer with 10:59 left in the first half on a perfectly placed strike from distance.

“If Maya takes that shot 10 more times, I don’t know if it goes in,” Bradac said. “It’s a beautiful swing. She hasn’t been hitting that all year. She hit it last year but she’s been more of our assists. I was happy for her when that ball goes in and obviously for the team as well.”

Chippewa controlled possession for most of the first half.

Bradac countered the Chippewa advantage by moving Erika Zschuppe and Zovko to the midfield. That moved paid off as the Hornets outscored the Chipps in the second half, 2-1.

“We come in, we talk as a team,” Bradac said of the halftime discussion. “It’s not me. It’s all of us. It’s my coaches, my players asking what’s working and what’s not working and ultimately come up with the simple solution, which is, ‘Look, let’s throw Maya and Erika in the midfield. Let’s start them in the midfield. Let’s let them control them a little bit and let’s settle down.’ I think that’s kind of ultimately what happened. All the credit goes to our girls.”

Mia Rini scored in the 44th minute to give the Hornets their first lead, 2-1.

That goal was set up by Rini following the game plan.

“Before we got out here, what we’re going to do, you’re going to go in and you’re going to focus on No. 20,” Bradac said of Rini’s assignment. “You’re basically going to man-mark their defender because every ball that comes into her, she just one-times it out. You need to frustrate her. That’s kind of where she was. She was hanging up by her. They know they like to play back to her. Right place, right time and just a beautiful finish.”

Chippewa answered when Bailey Clark took advantage of a rare mistake in Kirtland’s defensive third to tie the game with 24:49 left in regulation.

A trio of Kirtland defenders momentarily froze, allowing Clark enough time to kick a slow roller into the corner of the net.

“It was definitely a communication error,” Bradac said. “The second goal made me sick to my stomach. There’s no other way I can say it. For me, I just feel bad. I feel bad for Corinne (Aquila), I feel bad for Erika and I feel bad for Emily (Ungrady) because it’s not like they’re not trying their hardest. They’re high school girls. I didn’t want it to come to that.”

Jenna Sayle helped the Hornets forget that mistake when she fielded a deflection off a Zschuppe shot and placed it into the corner to close out the scoring with 13:53 left in the game.

Again, Bradac’s scouting report paid dividends.

“You have to keep flowing to the ball, keep flowing to that post,” Bradac said. “We know that their goalie, that’s one thing I picked up from watching them play, I know that the goalie mishandled balls. I said, ‘Girls, you’ve got to capitalize on any misplayed ball, mishandled ball,” and she was in the right spot and just calmly finished.”

Kirtland’s defense held off the Chipps the rest of the way.

The Hornets will play Archbold on Tuesday at Sandusky High School as part of a doubleheader with the Kirtland boys’ team, who also will play Archbold in a state semifinal contest. The girls will kick off at 6:00 p.m. while the boys are scheduled to start at 8:00.

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.