Saturday, September 30, 2023

Blue Devils notch perfect regular season

Independence closed out the regular season with a 9-1 win over visiting Cornerstone Christian Academy on Thursday.

While the outcome was never in doubt, the win was significant as the Blue Devils capped their first perfect regular season in school history.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “We were close a couple of times before, so it’s kind of nice to go the whole season, across the board.”

Independence finished 13-1-2 last fall and the Blue Devils were undefeated in 2014 regular season but finished with a pair of ties.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said junior Sam Belitz, who notched a hat-trick in the win. “Our team has worked so hard to earn all of the wins this season. A perfect season is great, but it only happened because we’ve been focused on improving our quality of soccer as a team.”

The seniors on the team have compiled a 63-6-5 record and counting in their four years with the program.

“The guys knew what was at stake and they came out flying to the ball,” MacRaild said. “Sam had another hat trick, Wyatt had a couple of nice finishes and Brad Wartroba got out there and had two. Those three guys had a lot of the attack. We even got Marco DiGeronimo a goal and Ethan Manelski, our backup goalkeeper, too. He might be getting some playing time in the field here as the playoffs progress. It will be good to have him getting some touches in the field.”

Much of Independence’s success this season stems from the effort in the defensive third.

The Blue Devils have allowed just four goals all season, with three of them coming against reserve players in blowout wins.

Independence recorded 12 shutouts, including 11 consecutive, which left them tied for third in Ohio High School Athletic Association history for consecutive shutouts in a single season.

“The boys are kind of hanging their hats on that and they should be proud of that,” MacRaild said. “I’ll take four goals allowed in regulation.”

With a perfect season under their belts, the Blue Devils will spend some time celebrating, but they’ll quickly focus on the postseason.

“Of course we’re going to celebrate the perfect season achievement for a little, but everyone’s on the same page that we’ve still got plenty of work ahead of us and other goals to accomplish,” Belitz said.

Independence’s next goal to accomplish is winning the district title for a second straight season.

The top-seeded Blue Devils host the winner of the No. 8 Elyria Catholic versus No. 9 Lake Ridge Academy sectional semifinal on Oct. 21.

“I’m giving them off (on Friday) and we’ve got a weekend to kind of recalibrate and reset,” MacRaild said. “The boys know what’s at stake. We’ve been here before. They have a goal to win the district in back to back years. There are some good teams in our way this year. We had some good battles last year and some different teams are there this year. We have a pretty tough draw. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, but we’ll put pen to paper and put some ideas down and see if we can execute.”

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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