Friday’s season-opening loss on their home turf, their first in two seasons, didn’t sit well with the Independence Blue Devils.
They responded with a 4-2 win over league rival Beachwood on Tuesday.
“Starting the season out with a loss kind of hit the boys hard,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “They realize that it's part of history now and you have to take care of business. We didn't play good on Friday so they wanted to come back and prove they are a better team and they came out firing.”
With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 20-1-1 on their home turf at Alumni Field.
Sophomore Sam Belitz scored three goals to notch his first hat trick of the season and freshman Adam Leibel added one in the win.
The goal was the first for Leibel, who also made his first career start.
“He didn't start for us on Friday but I gave him the start tonight to give us a little different look up top and he came through,” MacRaild said.
Belitz opened the scoring and Leibel pushed the Blue Devil lead to 2-0 before a penalty kick put the Bison on the board.
“We were up 2-0 and Shai Yulish scored on a PK,” MacRaild said. “A ball was served into the box and one of our guys went up to shoulder it and he gave it a little chicken wing and got called for the handball in the box.”
Yulish tied it a short time later on a breakaway goal.
Belitz’s second goal came late in the first half to give Independence a 3-2 lead heading into the break.
“Right before halftime, with about 1:20 to go, Sam Belitz got his second goal of his night to give us the lead going into halftime,” MacRaild said. “That was a big break.”
At halftime, MacRaild stressed to his squad the importance of finishing strong.
“Shai Yulish is probably the best goal scorer in the league, maybe in the area,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, we won the first half but we didn't win the game. We've got to kind of lock it down for another 40 minutes.' They rose to the occasion.”
MacRaild charged Jared McCullough with man marking Yulish and keeping him in check.
“He only scored one goal out of play and put the PK in, so I think Jared did a great job of taking care of his business,” MacRaild said.
McCullough had a lot of help on defense from Jimmy Senick, Kyle Streibel and Luke Wisnieski.
“I've got to give credit to the defense,” MacRaild said. “We graduated pretty much our entire back line of defenders, except for Jared, who was playing kind of a defensive mid-fielder. We put him back on defense knowing who we were up against with Yulish and he reacted well. Those other three guys coming in, really not ever having played defense, we've been working on getting them organized and working on becoming a unit. They were a completely different group of guys as opposed to what we saw on Friday night. It was good to see them jell a little bit.”
Tyler Korecko recorded seven saves in goal for the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils travel to Columbia on Saturday.