Independence’s ninth straight didn’t come easily.
The Blue Devils played the first half of Saturday’s Division III sectional championship game against a well-coached Lake Ridge Academy team that also had the gusting wind at its back. The Royals used that advantage to take a 1-0 lead into halftime.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, the Blue Devils scored four unanswered goals to win, 4-1.
“Momentum is a funny thing,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild, who claimed his 100th career win. “There is a season-long momentum that we are feeling, but within the game is the one that can really mess with your head. We have some very mature players, intelligent players that understand the ups and downs and that we will face those changes and are able to battle through them.”
After senior Casey Al-Haddad gave Lake Ridge Academy a 1-0 lead, the Royals bunkered down defensively to counter Independence’s potent offensive attack.
That strategy worked until midway through the second when Wyatt Kunevicius scored the first of his three goals to tie the game. Kunevicius gave Independence its first lead a few minutes later.
Evan Collins assisted on Kunevicius’ first goal and Kevin Mewhinney set up the second.
Collins gave the Blue Devils a two-goal lead when he split the LRA defense to score and Kunevicius made it 4-1 when he bounced one off the Royals’ keeper and off the post into the net with just eight minutes left to play.
“At half we talked about sticking to the plan,” MacRaild said. “They played a very defensive set and were absorbing pressure all night. We had to adjust our attack and work through the spaces, not through the people. We talked about just relaxing and moving the ball and keeping it at our feet. We knew the wind was also a huge factor and really affected the way the game went. We were facing it and had a hard time getting the ball up the field. They were facing it and it was the same for them, so playing on a short field gave us more opportunities and we capitalized.”
Independence’s defensive side of Drew Benos, David Wisniewski, Jared McCullough, Matt Mroczynski, Nolan Fields and Tyler Korecko shut down the Royals for most of the game and Christian Seif and Ryan Straub shined from their wing positions on both sides of the field.
Korecko recorded one save in the game.
The Blue Devils improved to 15-0-2 on the season and now know they can overcome the elements and the pressure of trailing at halftime.
“There is always a little pressure but we had been down before this season and were able to come back,” MacRaild said. “We talked a little about facing a similar defense last season with Kirtland and I think that familiarity helped them get into the flow of the game.”
The Blue Devils host Oberlin on Tuesday in a Division III Rocky River district semifinal match that will be streamed live by OhioVarsity.com.