SOLON—Two years ago, Kirtland needed a shootout to beat Warren Champion in a Division III, Region 9 semifinal at Solon High School.
The Hornets weren’t tested in their second regional tournament appearance at Stewart Field as they cruised to a 4-0 win over Rootstown on Tuesday.
“I wasn’t as worried about tonight as I was the other night (in a 4-1 win over Berkshire in the Gates Mills District championship game) and I don’t know why,” said Kirtland coach Ed Bradac. “Berkshire was a known; Rootstown was an unknown, in a sense.”
Kirtland got off to a fast start against the Rovers, the Kent District winner, when Emily Ungrady accepted a through ball from Maya Zovko, then beat a defender and the goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the contest.
“The team just did a great job possessing the ball and giving some good give-and-gos and Maya played a great ball,” Ungrady said. “I was able to run on to it and get a one-on-one with the goalie.”
Zovko made it 2-0 with 3:30 left in the half when she finished off a pass from Jenna Sayle with a powerful shot past Rootstown keeper, Meaghan Hahn, who recorded 22 saves in the game.
“Scoring that first goal in the first five minutes was huge and then getting the second goal in the last five too,” Bradac said. “We talk about the first five and the last five of a half is incredibly important because that’s when goals are given up and that’s when goals are scored, so I love the fact that we were able to score in those two windows.”
For the second game in a row, Kirtland opened the second half with an early penalty kick after Ungrady was tackled in the box.
Maggie Kadas stepped and drilled the ball into the back of the net to increase the Kirtland lead to 3-0 with 37:17 left in the game.
Ungrady later assisted on Liz Vernon’s goal with 16 minutes remaining in the game to close out the scoring.
Kirtland’s defense did the rest.
“We knew that No. 4 and No. 7 were their best players and we knew their goalkeeper was solid and she has faced a lot of shots, so we just wanted to make sure that No. 4 didn’t get free and Tea (Petric) did a wonderful job of covering her and Maggie cleaned up anything that got passed.”
The Hornets held an advantage in overall team speed and their organization and communication on the backend also contributed to their 11th clean sheet of the season.
“We’ve just done a really good job,” said defender Jessica Hepper. “With our chemistry, we know when we need to drop back for each other, we know when we need to pass to each other and we know when we need to push up. We’ve just done a really good job of communicating recently.”
Gabby Culotta recorded two saves for the Hornets, who improved to 13-4-3 on the year.
Kirtland will play Elyria Catholic (15-5) in the regional championship game on Saturday at a location to be determined. The Panthers advanced with a 6-0 win over New Middletown Springfield.