KIRTLAND—Adam Leibel and Sam Belitz both scored goals to lead Independence to a 2-0 win at Kirtland in a key Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division contest at Recreation Park on Tuesday.
“This was a big step in the right direction to get our fourth league title,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “That’s a goal for the boys. They want to do that and go undefeated. We have to keep grinding away.”
With the win, the Blue Devils extended their regular season win streak to 39 games. They last lost a regular season contest in the 2016 season opener.
Tuesday’s game at Kirtland was the next “league championship” game for the Blue Devils.
“We’ve got two more,” MacRaild said. “We’ve got to deal with Beachwood, who is playing really well, and Berkshire. We’ve got to go play there and that’s always an interesting place. We were down 2-0 when we were at Berkshire two years ago.”
The Hornets and Blue Devils both had chances early in the first half to break a scoreless tie. Kirtland missed high on a free kick and the Blue Devils bounced a shot off the crossbar.
Leibel finally gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead when he got loose in front of the goal and punched in a free ball with about 15 minutes left in the half.
“That was a good ball in and then Adam did the rest,” MacRaild said. “He kind of ran through it and found the back of the net just on hard work, which is nice. It wasn’t just moving the ball or skill. It was a grit.”
Leibel’s goal was the first allowed by the Hornets since a penalty kick at Wickliffe on Aug. 28 and just the second goal allowed by Tyler Banyasz all season.
Belitz made it 2-0 five minutes into the second half.
The Hornets pressured the Independence net several times during the final 15 minutes but Ethan Manelski recorded his fourth clean sheet of the season.
“We did not match their aggression and their desire for the majority of the game and you can’t do that against a good team,” said Kirtland coach John Valentic. “I thought we did the last 15 minutes where we were aggressive and hungry but obviously, that’s a little too late. We have to try to do that more and regularly, consistently.”
Independence’s defense had a lot to do with Kirtland’s struggles in the first 65 minutes of play.
“We had a game plan for their attack,” MacRaild said. “They’re very quick and decisive and they move the ball well. We had to get a good defensive plan in place. They executed pretty well but we had to make a few tweaks to kind of neutralize the skill they have. To hold them to no goals is big for our defense.”
Kirtland had trailed just once previously this season after allowing that penalty kick at Wickliffe. The Hornets responded in that game to earn a draw.
“The question is how are you going to react?” Valentic said regarding his young team facing adversity. “There is always going to be setbacks and failures in a game and I think we responded pretty well. But do you have to wait to be challenged or can you bring it to the other team and make them uncomfortable? I think that’s the next step. We reacted well but now can we be the aggressor?”
Independence improved to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in CVC play. Kirtland dropped to 6-1-2, 3-1-1.