KIRTLAND—Kirtland coach John Valentic anticipated a struggle in Saturday’s Division III sectional championship game against Berkshire on Saturday.
The Hornets defeated the Badgers 6-0 in the regular season but Valentic expected the Badgers to stack the defensive side of the field to slow down the Kirtland offense. To counter that, Valentic introduced a new strategy to his players just before the start of the game and the Hornets responded with a 5-1 victory.
“We tried something new, as far as a formation, a little bit more attacking,” Valentic said. “It was totally new. We never practiced it. To the team’s credit, they did a nice job with it. I threw it on them literally 10 minutes before the game.”
Kirtland’s offense responded with five goals and nearly a dozen other shots on goal.
Sanjay Sundararajan led the Hornets with two goals and Bradley Hauptman, Jared Ianiro and Stjepan Mijic-Barisic each scored one.
“The usual suspects; that was good to see,” Valentic said. “Sanjay’s goals, he was moving off the ball and that’s why he was in the right place and he finished. Bradley obviously was good with finishing and Pepo (Mijic-Barisic) had a great left-footed finish. These are the guys we need to do it or otherwise we’re not going to have a chance.”
Kirtland’s attacking strategy left the Hornets a bit weaker on the defensive end.
“We were only playing with three in the back,” Valentic said. “We wanted to go forward more, so we put more numbers on the attack. We were vulnerable. Berkshire had one or two chances over the top but the message was if you’re down a goal, it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to get the goal. They had some chances but we snuffed it out.”
Berkshire broke through midway through the second half on a Nick Boyk goal.
“I give Berkshire a lot of credit, they came out and really battled,” Valentic said. “They didn’t make it easy. We knew they were going to be really defensive and we tried to train for that this week. They did a nice job.”
The Hornets, who improved to 13-4, advanced to the Division III University Heights district semifinals where they will host Wickliffe on Tuesday.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played (Wickliffe),” Valentic said. “I know that (Wickliffe coach) Chris (Adkins) will have them organized and it will not be easy.”
A win over the Blue Devils could set up a rematch with Beachwood, who plays Cornerstone Christian Academy in the semifinals. Valentic plans to keep his players focused on the Wickliffe game rather than looking ahead to a potential rematch with the Bison, who were ranked second in the state this season prior to a 2-1 loss at Kirtland back in September.
“That’s the trick, just keep talking about Wickliffe and keep talking about Wickliffe and not even mention Beachwood,” Valentic said.