CANFIELD—Down two starters and a third playing on just one good wheel, Kirtland had every reason to play an uninspired match in Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal at South Range.
Instead, the Hornets struck early and maintained that lead for most of regulation. The Raiders scored with just under seven minutes left to force overtime and then scored the game-winner in the second OT to beat the Hornets, 2-1.
“You’re missing two starters and half a guy who is injured, I give my boys a lot of credit,” Kirtland coach John Valentic said. “The goal is to always win the district. The goal is to go undefeated in the (Chagrin Valley Conference), I know there wasn’t an official title, but we did that. You want to win double-digits, you want to play good soccer, you want to have a great experience. If you ask me today, it’s miserable. If you ask me in a week or a month, I’m going to say, ‘You know what, I’m so happy and proud.’ It’s hard year after year, but when you have guys like this, who didn’t want to see themselves as victims of bad luck because of the pandemic or whatever, and they came to battle, it keeps you coming back.”
Nico Podojil-Schlesinger scored with 28:35 remaining in the first half to give the Hornets an early 1-0 lead.
The Hornets sent a ball over the top and Podojil-Schlesinger collected it near the 20-yard line and dribbled up. His first attempt hit the crossbar but he regained possession and beat the South Range keeper to the left corner.
“You get a goal like that, it’s early, it’s a little bit of a relief,” Valentic said. “That was all Nico and hustle. I thought they’d be vulnerable over the top. They did have some very fast backs but without our regulars to build out of the back and do what we wanted to do was going to be difficult. We tried to do that and it worked. We were getting chances but that was all Nico and a good finish after it hit the crossbar.”
With Spencer Fortney playing one of his best games of the season in the net, the Hornets held that lead until late in the second half when Camden Thomas drilled a shot from around the 40-yard line that few keepers could have prevented.
Tom Landry hit a similar shot in the second overtime to end the game.
“Those are unsavable by so many keepers in high school and even at the next level,” Valentic said. “There’s no shame in losing on shots like that and the irony, of course, is they probably had three. Two went in and one hit the crossbar that were really, really threatening and their goalkeeper came up really big and made some big saves. We were threatening the whole time but we just couldn’t break them down.”
While South Range had twice as many shots on goal as Kirtland, the Hornets created their own opportunities.
Evan Dures put several shots on frame and the Hornets had one ball go off the crossbar in overtime.
“They’re defending with nine or 10 guys,” Valentic said. “They were dangerous on a counter in a sense but you can’t breakthrough. We had been working on finishing and we’ve got some good dribblers. I don’t care if there were 10 mannequins back there, to dribble through and not touch them at speed, that’s very, very difficult let alone kids who are very athletic and active like South Range was.”
The loss snapped Kirtland’s six-game winning streak. The Hornets close out the season with a 13-4-1 record.