Top-seeded Independence struggled to pull out a 2-1 win over No. 8 Elyria Catholic in a Division III sectional championship game on Saturday.
The Blue Devils scored both goals in the second half to remain undefeated and keep alive their season.
“I think we played good enough to win but we didn’t play our best,” said Independence head coach Ryan MacRaild. “We kind of got into a kicking match when we should have just been playing soccer all along. We got out of our game a little bit, which made it closer than it should have been. I’m not taking anything away from them, they came out for a battle and it worked out in our favor.”
Independence defeated Elyria Catholic, 2-0, back on Sept. 28, so MacRaild knew the Panthers would provide a challenge, despite their No. 8 seed.
“They had a little time to sort of plan a little better for us,” MacRaild said. “They came out with a different look by dropping their best player back to sweeper. He’s lightning fast and covered a lot of space, which really locked down their defense against us.”
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half and held that advantage at the break.
“I told the boys it wasn’t going to stay that way,” MacRaild said. “We just had to chip away and get back to playing decent soccer. It got a little physical, and we knew it would because it was physical the first time we played them and they were playing for their lives.”
That physical style of play cost the Panthers in the second half as one foul set up a Sam Belitz penalty kick that tied the game at 1-1.
“Sam was fouled in the box on an obstruction call,” MacRaild said. “The kid was pushing Sam off of the ball.”
Sophomore Christian Streibel later drilled the decisive goal.
“He actually hit one that went under the goalkeeper,” MacRaild said. “It kind of dipped down and went under him. For a sophomore to hit a shot like that to take the lead in a sectional final is pretty awesome.”
With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 17-0 on the year and will host No. 4 Beachwood in a district semifinal on Oct. 24 at 7:00 p.m.
The Blue Devils defeated Beachwood in the regular season, 6-1.