CHESTERLAND–The light post in the Southwest corner of West Geauga Stadium caught fire and burned out midway through the first half of the Division III University Heights District championship game between No. 2 seed Hawken and No. 3 seed Kirtland.
Two hours later, the Hornets turned out the lights on the Hawks’ season.
After 80 minutes of regulation and two 15-minute overtimes, Kirtland edged Hawken in a shootout, 3-2, to win its first-ever district title and will play Warren Champion on Tuesday at Solon in a regional semifinal.
“I hated to see it come to that,” said Kirtland coach Ed Bradac. “I was nervous all day long but as soon as this game started I was calm and the main reason for my calmness is our girls. Those 10 seniors are unbelievable. I can go down the list to each and every one of them. They all play a role. I keep telling them that because I think sometimes they forget what that role is. I’m so proud of them and how far they’ve come with this program.”
The Hornets, who improved to 15-3-2 on the year, beat both Gilmour Academy (1-0 in the district semifinals) and Hawken for the first time ever this season and those wins came in the same week. Hawken was ranked third in the state in Division III while the Lancers were No. 7.
Kirtland is now 1-10-2 against Gilmour Academy and 1-7-1 against Hawken all-time.
For Bradac and the Hornets, their winless streak against the Lancers and Hawks had no bearing on the games this week and the state rankings meant even less.
It came down to the Hornets believing they belonged in the game and had an equal opportunity to win.
“We never talked about them being the favorites,” Bradac said. “What we did talk about was it was 50-50. We talked about David and Goliath. I asked the girls to tell me the story of David and Goliath and they told it to me. They told it to me and I asked, ‘Who is David?’ They said, 'We are.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not. This is two amazing teams coming together to play this game. You don’t need to take a backseat to anybody.'
"We were so positive all week long. It stemmed from not just me, it stemmed from our captains and the messages they were sending and how we used social networking and media. It was unbelievable.”
The Hornets played with that mindset and countered every Hawken attack thanks to the impressive defensive effort of Hallie Ward, Emily Kadas, Kerri Zalba and Maddie Zuberer in goal.
That kept the Hawks off the board through regulation and two overtime periods to set up the shootout.
“You’ll find this amazingly hard to believe, but at this point it’s no longer in anybody’s hands. It’s fate in a sense,” Bradac said of his demeanor heading into the shootout. “I’m still calm. All I said to my two assistants, coach (Julie) Madden and coach (Erica) Eberhardt, all we need to do is get in the lead. All we talked about all week long was head, heart and doubt. Those were the three things we basically focused on. I said if you can put doubt in any team’s mind, that’s what we talked about at Gilmour and that’s what we talked about again today, doubt. If you get that lead they had doubt and then they got tighter because they are the favorites, plain and simple.”
Hawken converted its first penalty kick to take a 1-0 lead. The Hornets missed wide right on their first attempt.
After a Hawken miss, Hallie Ward tied the game and both teams missed their third try. Kirtland went up 2-1 after a Hawken miss and Maggie Kadas beat the Hawks’ keeper to the corner.
Hawken’s Seysha Mehta tied it at 2-2 to start the fifth round but Zuberer, who defended against all five of Hawken’s penalty kick shots, reversed her role and lined up for the potential game winning shot.
She went left to give the Hornets the victory then immediately sprinted to midfield to celebrate with her teammates.
“What a great story she now has,” Bradac said. “Not only does she make the saves and she’s intimidating in goal, but on top of all that she comes out and scores the game winning goal. We weren’t worried. Her confidence is unbelievable and she faces them all the time. She’s comfortable. She’s taking them on goalkeepers and she’s actually facing those shots so why not let her take them.”