Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Blue Devils win second straight district title

BEREA—Wyatt Kunevicius scored a pair of goals and Elek McDonald recorded two assists in leading Independence to a 4-2 win over Wickliffe in a Division III district championship game at Lou Groza Field on Saturday.

Seamus Kral and Sam Belitz also recorded goals to lead the Blue Devils to their second straight regional tournament.

“It’s exciting,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “We set a goal at the beginning of the year to do it and here we are. On to the next goal, which is to just go farther than we did last year and see what happens. It’s exciting to have that opportunity.”

The Blue Devils, who improved to 19-0 on the year, will play Rootstown in a Region 9 semifinal at Hudson High School on Nov. 1.

Wickliffe struck first when Jonny Abramczyk punched in a loose ball with 28:39 remaining in the first half.

“They’re a very dynamic scoring team and they’re very fast,” MacRaild said of Wickliffe. “They have three guys with 12-plus goals so we knew we had to contain them a little bit and that’s not easy to do. The boys hung in and they knew one goal wasn’t going to win the game and they battled back.”

Kral finished off an assist from McDonald three minutes later to tie the game and Kunevicius gave Independence a 2-1 lead with 16:40 remaining in the first half when found the back of the net on McDonald’s second assist.

According to McDonald, the Blue Devils didn’t panic when they trailed 1-0.

“We just really had to focus and put the work in and just pick everyone’s head up and just play the ball like we normally do to get the goals,” he said.

Kunevicius banked a header off the knee of a Wickliffe player late in the first half to increase Independence’s lead to 3-1 at the break.

Belitz’s header early in the second half gave the Blue Devils a comfortable three-goal lead.

“Going up 3-1 at half was great,” MacRaild said. “We knew we had to try to get one more to try to seal the deal and we did. I can’t say enough about the heart my boys have and how hard they worked today.”

Riley Pugh scored off a deflected free kick to pull Wickliffe to within 4-2 with 16:35 remaining in the game but Independence’s defense held off a late surge to close out the win.

“We just made sure we focused on keeping our shape and tried to eliminate breakthroughs and breakouts,” MacRaild said of slowing down the Wickliffe attack. “There was no magic adjustment we had to make; it was just focusing on our game plan again and refocusing on where we wanted to get the ball. The boys executed well. They know if we put a game plan out and stick to it we’ll have a good chance of winning.”

Rootstown enters the Region 9 semifinals as the winner of the Kent District and a 16-2-1 record.

“We’re more prepared more now,” McDonald said of Independence’s second straight regional tournament appearance. “I feel like our team’s confidence has really built up over the past two years and we’re ready for a challenge.”

Steve Harehttp://www.ohiovarsity.com
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes OhioVarsity.com, 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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