INDEPENDENCE—The road to the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title leads through Independence.
The Blue Devils, ranked fifth in the latest Division III state coaches’ poll, defeated Kirtland, 3-0, on Tuesday and clinch a share of a fourth straight league title with a win or tie over Berkshire on Sept. 26.
“The boys have those goals set of being undefeated and winning the league again for the third year, and really going further in the playoffs. That’s the ultimate goal,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “Every game is a bit of a challenge. When you get to the CVC standings, it’s up in the air. Beachwood is still in it. Don’t count out Beachwood because they’re well-coached and growing and improving. Kirtland gave us all we can handle.”
Kirtland had its hands full marking Independence’s dangerous attackers, Wyatt Kunevicius and Sam Belitz.
That allowed Seamus Kral to steal the spotlight.
Kral scored in the fifth minute and again in the 15th to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 halftime advantage. He assisted on Belitz’s second half header to close out the scoring.
“Seamus is kind of flying under the radar for now,” MacRaild said. “Wyatt can make some plays. Sam can make some plays and even some of our backs coming up can make some plays too. It’s nice to have those opportunities. Kirtland is a well-coached team. They work hard and have good skill. We just came out hungry tonight and knew what we were up against.”
The Hornets had several opportunities but couldn’t break through against Independence’s defense, which has shutout seven straight opponents and has allowed just two goals in nine games.
“They’re a good team, well-coached, well-organized,” said Kirtland coach John Valentic of the Blue Devils. “They don’t’ have seven shutouts by accident. I told my team, we zoned out for a minute or two and that cost us three goals. You can’t afford to do that against a good, organized team. They’re good and we zoned out and that’s the difference.”
Euclid scored a goal against Independence’s reserves in a 9-1 loss to the Blue Devils in the season-opener and Wickliffe (6-2-1) also found the net in a 2-1 loss to Independence.
Tyler Korecko continues to add to his school record for career shutouts. He has been helped by a solid group of defenders that includes Joe Wisniewski, Luke Wisniewski, Kyle Streibel, Adam Leibal and Jimmy Senick.
“I’m happy with the hustle and the effort,” MacRaild said. “The defense is holding tight. Tyler is back there barking out orders, Luke holds his own in the back and Jimmy, a sophomore, had the dubious task of marking (Kirtland’s Joey) Zovko, who is an elite scorer in the league. He did a great job. He has got the biggest heart on the team. He’s the hardest worker. He has that wrestler in him that just doesn’t stop.”
Independence improved to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play while Kirtland dropped to 4-3-1, 1-2.
“The beauty of the high school season is there’s probably a game every other day so we’ll have a good training session tomorrow and talk about what went wrong today and then you’ll get another chance to prove yourself,” Valentic said. “It is a long season, but eventually time and the games are going to run out, so we’ve got to find it as quickly as we can.”