Thursday, September 16, 2021

Blue Devils head back to district championship

Independence added another chapter to its perfect season with a 4-1 win over visiting Beachwood in a Division III district semifinal on Tuesday at Stan Skoczen Stadium in Independence.

The Blue Devils had defeated the Bison, 6-1, during the regular season but were forced to make a few adjustments in the postseason rematch.

“They had a guy that didn’t play the first time,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “He played center mid and he’s a really solid player with good speed and distribution. We had to make some adjustments from the first game to deal with him.”

While MacRaild made changes on the defensive end, he allowed his offensive players to stick with what had worked through the first 17 games of the season.

That resulted in Wyatt Kunevicius notching a hat trick and Sam Belitz scoring another goal in the win.

“We had some good ball movement,” MacRaild said. “We got the ball wide out to Wyatt and he did some work on the wing to get some opportunities to get into the box. He had some really hard shots past the goalie. He was not shorted on his goals today. He had a couple rips. Sam’s header off of a corner was the unique goal. The others ones came from buildup and through balls and a good couple hard shots low into the corners. “

Kunevicius scored his first goal by beating the Beachwood keeper in a one-on-one situation. His second developed from a through ball sent forward by the defense and his third was a heads up play on a loose ball at the top of the box.

“We didn’t really have a set plan,” Kunevicius said of the offensive outburst. “We just have a strong chemistry amongst the players and were able to break down their defense for the win.”

With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 18-0 and will play Wickliffe in Saturday’s district championship game at Berea-Midpark High School.

Independence edged Wickliffe, 2-1, back on Aug. 22, but MacRaild expects the rematch to be even more intense.

“We played them on their grass field back on Aug. 22,” he said. “It’s a small field and we didn’t quite have our lineup established. I think we’re a little better than we were that night, but so they are. They have improved and had a huge streak, much like us, of shutouts and good defensive games. They have a really fast attack that we’ve got to be ready for.”

Wickliffe opened the season with a 1-2 record but has won 14 of its last 15 games to improve to 15-2-1 on the year.

Independence is 18-0 with a return trip to the regional tournament at stake.

“Every year feels better than the last and we couldn’t be happier to have made it back (to the district final) for our third consecutive year,” Kunevicius said. “Overall, we have a very positive outlook on the rest of the season, but we are fully aware of the tough competition ahead and will do our best to take the season one game at a time.”

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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