Monday, June 17

    Independence tops Canton Central Catholic in postseason shootout

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    Independence took an early lead and then needed a shootout to hold off Canton Central Catholic in a Division III sectional semifinal on Saturday, 5-4.

    The Blue Devils led 3-0 and 4-1 before the Crusaders mounted their comeback to force two scoreless overtime periods and the shootout.

    “I was confident that we’d make at least four (penalty kicks),” said Independence coach Bryan Less. “I thought Keely (Sears) would save one and they’d miss one, so I was pretty confident.”

    Alana Nowak, who ran in the Chagrin Valley Conference cross country championships in the morning, opened the scoring by converting a penalty kick just three minutes into the game.

    Casey Adams added three goals in the first half as the Blue Devils built a 4-1 lead at the break.

    Nowak assisted on two of Adam’s goals, which allowed her to tie the school record with 15 assists in a single season.

    “The real difference maker is we were up 4-1 and in the first 10 minutes of the second half, we had several chances to go to 5-1,” Less said. “If we could have gotten another goal there, the momentum doesn’t swing back.”

    Instead, the Blue Devils left the door open for the Crusaders, who scored three unanswered goals to tie the game.

    Central Catholic’s offensive success forced Less to move Adams back to defense, the position she played before moving to forward earlier this season.

    “I moved Casey to center back and all we gave up were fast breaks,” Less said. “We grinded it out.”

    After two scoreless overtime periods, the Blue Devils dominated the shootout.

    Sears made a diving stop on Central Catholic’s first attempt and Adams buried her attempt in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Sears saved the second shot hit right at her and Bryanna LeRoy gave the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead when she scored the first goal of her career. Sears then made a third straight save.

    “It was super exciting, but very new territory for our whole team considering we have never participated in a PK shootout,” Sears said. “I trusted my teammates and had full confidence in their abilities.”

    For Sears, she was in her element during the pressure-packed situation.

    “During the coin flip is where it felt the most nerve-wracking for me,” she said. “As soon as I went to the goal, I lined up just like any other day and led with confidence. My strategy, as the other player sets up, is to get in their head and try to put as much pressure on her as possible then I follow the ball for a save.”

    Leading 2-0, Sears lined up for a PK attempt that could seal Independence’s win and she rose to the challenge to end the game.

    “Lining up to shoot a PK was super exciting for me,” Sears said. “We practice PKs for a situation exactly like this, so I shot it like it was another day at practice and ended up with my first goal ever. I was super honored to do my part for my team in the last few minutes and it’s a moment and celebration I will never forget.”

    The shootout was the first for Less in his 18 years as head coach at Independence. He did lose an overtime game in his first season.

    “I’ve been coaching a long time, and I never even had a game go into a second overtime,” Less said. “I lost my first ever overtime game when we were playing Kirtland, and they were the No. 2 seed. They had a good team, but it was 1-1 and we went to overtime. They scored in like the first minute (of overtime), but since then, we’re undefeated in overtime games.”

    With the win, the Blue Devils advanced to play at Orrville in a sectional final on Wednesday.

    “It was a super special victory,” Sears said. “It was amazing to watch us perform under pressure at the very end. I’m very happy that I get to watch my team continue to the next game and can’t wait to see us perform again.”



    Steve Hare
    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, 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, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the 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.

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