UNIONTOWN—Marko Cubela’s heady play in overtime led Kirtland to a 3-2 win over Kidron Central Catholic in a Division III regional semifinal at Green Memorial Stadium on Wednesday.
Mario Rodin served up a corner kick that Cubela finished off with 3:10 remaining in the first overtime to send the Hornets back to the regional championship game for the second time since 2016.
“Honestly, I didn’t even see it go in,” Kirtland coach John Valentic said. “I wasn’t convinced until everybody started celebrating. In a match where we were physically outmatched, we battled and it showed in our heart and character and determination.”
Kirtland’s first trip to the regional tournament in 2016 ended with a 2-0 loss to Kidron Central, which left the Hornets eager for revenge.
The Hornets quickly found themselves down 1-0 when Logan Schrock buried the ball into the Kirtland net just five minutes into the game.
“We talked about that at practice,” Valentic said of facing adversity. “What are you going to do when you make a mistake or go down a goal or two or three? How are you going to react? That’s a reality. To their credit, great response and obviously a great battle. Even when we went up a goal and they came right back, to go with those momentum swings was fantastic.”
Kirtland’s response just over six minutes later when Ethan Garcia lofted a corner kick into the box and Kyle Lutz used his head to punch the ball into the upper right corner.
Jeremy Lunka gave the Hornets their first lead when he took a pass from Josip Mijic-Barisic and broke down a pair of defenders before beating the Central keeper to the left corner with 23 minutes remaining in regulation.
The Comets struck quickly as Reed Miller tied the game a minute later and Central amped up its attack in the final 10 minutes of regulation but the Hornets weathered the storm.
Tyler Banyasz recorded three saves and Johnny Raguz should be credited with one after he cleared out a deflection off the chest of Banyasz to prevent the go-ahead score.
Lunka had two great looks at the net but the Central keeper made two diving stops to send the game into overtime.
“The whole time, you’re not really thinking about the moment,” Valentic said. “You’re thinking about the next one. Do you play for a tie? Do you play for penalties? Do you play for the next one? Do you play defensive? I wasn’t sure. Soccer-wise, we were good. I think we were a little bit better in possession and style but sometimes that isn’t good enough to win the game. Today, we were fighters and not victims.”
Valentic made a substitution that proved to affect the outcome when he swapped Mario Rodin in for Mijic-Barisic in overtime.
It was Rodin that served up the accurate corner that sent the Hornets to Saturday’s regional final.
“I put Mario in because I know that Josip was getting a little tired,” Valentic said. “He had a little bit more legs in him and he got the ball across.”
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As for Cubela, his instincts took over and he made a play on the ball.
“I saw the corner coming through from Mario,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. It was exciting. I can’t say anything; it’s overwhelming.”
Garcia finished the day with one assist but he played with reckless abandon from one endline to the other winning free balls and affecting the flow of the game in a positive way for the Hornets. Bartul Petric also slowed down the Comet attack with his effort in the midfield.
“Ethan has been doing that for four years,” Valentic said. “Bartul, I put him in after 10 minutes to hold the midfield and hold that center. I saw that we were physically outmatched there and put him there and he really figured it out on the fly.”
Kirtland (16-1-3) advanced to Saturday’s regional championship game against Campbell Memorial (17-3). That game will be played at a location and time to be determined.