AVON—Junior Macy McIntosh was in the right place at the right time to send Kirtland back to the Division III state title game.
After Giuliana Vladic delivered a picture-perfect corner kick to a leaping Aria Evans-Roskos, McIntosh swooped in and used her knee to punch in the deflection off of the header for a 1-0 Kirtland lead with 7:11 left in the first half. The goal was the first for McIntosh in her career.
The Hornets held on to that lead and will play in Friday’s state championship game against Cincinnati Country Day.
“Literally, within the last two weeks when we’ve practiced, we needed somebody that was physical,” Kirtland coach Ed Bradac said of McIntosh’s positioning on the corner kick. “We needed somebody that was basically going to throw their body in and there’s nobody better than Macy to do that. She is so good in the air. I think where she was at the start of the season to where she is today, you can’t just look at her as an athlete, you have to look at her as an all-around soccer player for us.”
Just a few minutes earlier, Liberty-Benton had two point-blank shots at Kirtland’s goal. One was rejected by goalkeeper Corinne Aquila and the other deflected up and away off the crossbar.
Evans-Roskos’ header hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced right into McIntosh’s path.
“What it comes down to is this, sometimes this is a cruel game,” Bradac said of the two very different bounces off the crossbar. “I can look at the games that have been played this year and the teams that should have won but didn’t win. I would have felt that it would have been cruel for us to come out on the negative side of this, I really do. I felt like we were the better team coming in.”
The Hornets, who improved to 18-1-3, dominated the first 15 minutes of the game.
Liberty-Benton then took control for a five-minute stretch where the Eagles peppered the Kirtland goal and intensified their attack.
Kirtland regrouped and used outstanding defensive efforts from Aquila, Corinne Greenlee, and Amber Yurick, as well as a strong counter-attack in the midfield with Maria Bevanda, Leah LaVerde and Reilly Greenlee, to maintain possession.
“Coming into the game, we knew the style they were going to play,” Bradac said. “We looked to exploit certain things they were going to give us. What they weren’t going to give us was anything through the middle. They’re very organized, they’re very disciplined and their goalkeeper is outstanding. We wanted to get Leah and Reilly involved and we wanted to earn corner kicks and crosses, and I felt that we did that. I felt that we were the better team possession-wise for probably 75-percent of the game.”
Bradac adjusted his defense to counter Liberty-Benton’s over the top approach.
“They looked to hit a big ball, that quick counter, and that’s why we had Amber and Corinne back and that’s why we kept having them drop the best they could so they didn’t get beat and kept everything in front of them,” Bradac said.
Then there’s Aquila, who took it personally when the Hornets lost to the Eagles in the 2019 state semifinals, 2-1.
She spent hours studying the Eagles and was more prepared for this game than any other.
“For her, she felt some responsibility the last time we played; that’s just the pressure she puts on herself,” Bradac said. “She’s probably the one I’m happiest for. She had tears in her eyes because she wanted to come and play. She did her research. She could tell me who was injured; she could tell me who wasn’t playing for Liberty-Benton going all the way back to September. She wanted this game.”
Aquila and the rest of the Kirtland seniors continued to add to their legacy. The winningest class in program history now has 70 wins in a four-year span.
“I’m so happy for this senior class,” Bradac said. “So much emphasis has been placed on previous classes and we put it in their head this year that maybe it wasn’t the previous classes. The previous classes have been amazing but maybe it’s you, maybe you were the difference makers. Maybe you’re the reason we’ve been as good as we’ve been over the years and they came out and proved it tonight. I couldn’t be happier for them. They are an amazing group of girls.”
The Hornets return to MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus to play a familiar foe in Country Day, who beat Kirtland in the 2018 state championship game, 4-0.
Country Day enters the game with a 17-0-4 record and back-to-back state titles.
Kirtland faces a stiff challenge in unseating the defending state champion, but Bradac and the Hornets will prepare for the game the same way they have all season long.
“We are absolutely going to enjoy every minute of this win,” Bradac said. “We will do what we’ve done after every time we have won one of these games. We will get together and watch film on Country Day. We have film from two years ago and we have film from this year and we’ll try to see what they do and we’ll take it from there. I don’t think the moment will be too big for us.”