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    Independence wins first district title since 2018

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    Mark Pillar won a state golf title on Oct. 22 and on Saturday, he scored an overtime goal to secure Independence’s first district title since 2018.

    The Blue Devils edged Rootstown, 2-1, in a Division III district championship game at Barberton High School on Saturday and will play Chagrin Valley Conference rival Beachwood in a regional semifinal at Tallmadge on Wednesday.

    “We made the right plays at the right time,” said Independence coach Brien McDonald. “I’m extraordinarily proud because we don’t have a ton of guys so it’s a great accomplishment to make it to the district finals. Then, to win and get to the regionals, I’m just proud of these guys and they did it and they get another opportunity.”

    The win over Rootstown was a long time coming for several of the Blue Devils who served as ball boys back in 2017 when the Rovers defeated the Blue Devils in a regional semifinal, 4-3. Independence also avenged a postseason loss at Barberton from two seasons ago.

    “The seniors, two years ago they lost to Kidron Central Christian at Barberton and so they remembered that feeling of coming away disappointed and a lot of guys were ball boys on the team that Rootstown knocked out of the tournament,” McDonald said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but a lot of things from the past were settled today. I’m really proud of them and for our former players.”

    Independence controlled possession in the first half but couldn’t break the Rovers’ defense.

    A little luck led to Rootstown breaking a scoreless tie midway through the second half when a shot deflected off an Independence defender and into the net.

    Khalil McDonald evened things up with eight minutes remaining in regulation.

    “We dominated the majority of the first half, but we just couldn’t put it in,” Coach McDonald said. “They got us early in the second and then it was back and forth for a while.”

    Neither team broke the tie in regulation and as the clock was winding down in the first extra period, Pillar received a corner kick from Nathan Bernstein and buried it into the back of the net to secure Independence’s district championship.

    “It was extremely exciting knowing that my corner kick led to an amazing win,” Bernstein said. “It is really cool to see all of my hard work at practice pay off. I can’t describe how exciting it was to see my team and all of our fans so happy for all of us.”

    Bernstein recognized the situation with the overtime period nearing its end and he wanted to ensure Independence had the last shot at ending the game, so he slowed his pace and focused on delivering an actionable ball.

    “Before I was about to take the corner kick, I looked at the clock and I was trying to slow the game down a little, so I took a very slow jog to set up,” he said. “The game was very close, and it could go either way so every little thing mattered now. I was really nervous when I was setting up, but I made sure to stay calm and remember how much we have all worked for this moment. After Mark scored, I was overjoyed and celebrated with the team.”

    Bernstein and his teammates were well aware of Rootstown’s win over the Blue Devils two seasons ago, but he also knows how different that 2023 squad is from its 2021 counterpart and he wasn’t about to let the past dictate his team’s future.

    “A couple days ago, Coach McDonald told us about an article that he read on our game, and it talked about how Rootstown knocked us out of the playoffs two years ago,” Bernstein said. “The author was trying to compare two different teams because, in reality, our team is much more skilled and experienced than we were two years ago. I never let that get to my head. Whenever I see that field, I will remember this win that took lots of sweat and tears from every boy on the IHS soccer team this year.”

    With the win, Independence improved to 13-6-1 and locked in a date with Beachwood in the regional tournament.

     

    Steve Hare
    Steve Harehttps://www.ohiovarsity.com
    The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, 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 IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com 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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