Keys to the Division III district final

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Lilia Valentic

The Division III Gates Mills District championship will be decided at Ralph P. Adams Stadium in Cuyahoga Heights on Thursday.

Top-seeded Kirtland will play undefeated Berkshire, the district’s second-seeded team, at 7:00 p.m., in what should be an interesting matchup.

The Hornets, ranked ninth in the final Ohio Soccer Coaches’ Association Division III poll, are no strangers to the district tournament while the upstart Badgers are making their first appearance in the second stage of the postseason.

Kirtland (11-4-3) first played in the district tournament back in 2006 when the Hornets lost to Gilmour Academy, 5-0, in a Division II semifinal.

A third division was added in 2011 and the Hornets have won sectional titles in every year since 2012.

Kirtland’s record in the Division III district tournament is 2-4 with a 1-0 overtime loss to Hawken in the 2012 semifinals, a 1-0 overtime loss to Gilmour in both the 2013 and 2014 semifinals, and a 2-0 loss to Hawken in the 2016 semis.

The Hornets beat both Gilmour (1-0) and Hawken (3-2 in a shootout) to win their first district title in 2015. Kirtland advanced to the state Final Four that year.

This is the first time the Hornets earned the top seed in the district tournament. They beat Wickliffe 2-1 in overtime to advance to the finals.

Berkshire (18-0) advanced to the finals with a 2-1 win over Independence in the semifinals. It was the first district tournament win in school history.

Although both teams play in the Chagrin Valley Conference, they did not meet during the regular season as Kirtland plays up in the bigger Chagrin Division while Berkshire won the Valley Division title.

That segues right into the keys to the game:

IS BERKSHIRE BATTLE-TESTED?

Grace Lillibridge

Berkshire enters the game with an impressive 18-0 record, but the Badgers and Hornets have prepared for the postseason in vastly different ways.

Kirtland played eight opponents during the regular season who reached the district tournament while Berkshire faced just three.

The Badgers did play six games against Division I and Division II opponents, but those schools combined for very few wins. Kirtland opened the season with eight straight games against larger schools and faced four more down the stretch with regular season opponents Madison and Mayfield playing for the Division I Eastlake District title.

The Hornets earned a tie against both schools.

According to the Maher Rankings, a website that provides analytical data on soccer in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, Kirtland’s strength of schedule is 370th out of 1,014 girls’ teams in the tri-state area. Berkshire’s comes in at 961.

While the transitive property isn’t always relative, especially in sports, results against common opponents can provide some perspective in a matchup between two teams.

Berkshire and Kirtland have played four common opponents. The Badgers are 5-0 in those games, with two wins over Independence, while Kirtland also is 5-0, with two wins over Wickliffe.

BERKSHIRE KIRTLAND
Cuyahoga Heights Won 3-1 Won 4-0
Independence Won 1-0, Won 2-1 Won 5-1
Pymatuning Valley Won 4-0 Won 9-0
Wickliffe Won 3-1 Won 6-0, Won 2-1ot

The two games against common opponents that stick out the most are the contests against Independence and Wickliffe.

Berkshire beat Independence 1-0 in the regular season and 2-1 in a driving rainstorm in the playoffs. Kirtland beat Independence 5-1.

The Hornets earned two wins against Wickliffe, 6-0 in the regular season and an overtime 2-1 victory in the district semifinals. Berkshire beat Wickliffe 3-1.

With both teams enjoying similar results against common opponents the district championship game might come down to which team better handles the pressure of the biggest moment in the season, which leads to the second key of the game.

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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.