INDEPENDENCE—Emmett Stralka’s second-half hat trick led Independence to a 4-0 win over visiting Berkshire in a Division III sectional championship game on Saturday at Stan Skoczen Stadium.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 10-4 overall and will play at Smithville in a district semifinal on Tuesday, had multiple opportunities in the first half but were denied by a tenacious Berkshire defense.
“We talked about that first half how we were just shooting from 20 out and the goalkeeper was covering from post to post,” Independence coach Ryan MacRaild said. “I told them we had to get behind them and get kind of underneath and look for those chances.”
Casey McGhee broke the scoreless tie just two minutes into the second half.
Sam Eisenmann slid the ball to McGhee in front of the goal and McGhee aimed for the far post. The ball spun off the Berkshire keeper’s hands and into the net.
Stralka then scored the next three goals to seal the win.
He scored his first by moving the ball through traffic and sneaking his shot past the keeper. His second was set up by Eisenmann, who finished the day with two assists, and on the third, Stralka accelerated past the Berkshire defense and outran three Badgers to the goal.
“We were able to draw the defense up a little bit in the second half and got behind them with Emmett’s speed,” MacRaild said. “That’s a special gift he has and we try to use it as much as we can but we do have other guys that can score. Casey can put it on the back of the net. Even Aidan Coljohn, he had some great shots on frame today. I’m looking forward to seeing a couple of other guys score in the next game and see what the future holds.”
With the win, the Blue Devils have now won 10 or more games in seven straight seasons.
Despite their success, the Blue Devils understand the importance of each and every game regardless of the opponent.
“I told them at the beginning of the game, it’s one game at a time,” MacRaild said. “Our season could end tomorrow because of COVID and not even wins and losses. I was hoping we’d come out a little stronger than we did but we were taking a lot of errant shots that just weren’t good opportunities. They have a very solid goalkeeper and a good defensive line. They were keeping us honest.”
Berkshire closed out its season with an 8-9-1 record. The eight wins are the most in program history.