Thursday, June 8, 2023

Last second goal leads Kirtland to districts

KIRTLAND—A soccer game consists of 80 minutes but it’s what happens in the span of a few seconds that often decides the outcome.

That was the case at Recreation Park on Saturday where Kirtland’s Kyle Lutz scored a goal with six seconds remaining to edge visiting Cardinal, 2-1, in a Division III sectional championship game.

“I knew from the first time we played them that they were going to play with a lot of guys defensively and they were going to try and counter us and look for free kicks. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out,” said Kirtland coach John Valentic. “The question was whether we were going to be able to sneak one in and would we be able to defend the counter. For a large part of the game, we couldn’t sneak one in and we didn’t defend the counter well.”

The third-seeded Hornets had several set play opportunities in the first half but couldn’t convert their corner kicks into goals.

Meanwhile, Cardinal, the sixth seed, took advantage of its few opportunities when Alex Hutchinson sent a perfect through ball to Jake Revak, who gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead with 10:17 remaining in the first half.

Kirtland finally broke through the Cardinal defense when Kyle Work’s header found the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1 with 27:10 left in regulation.

With both defenses raising the level of intensity, it looked as if the game was headed for extra time.

“I was thinking about what I was going to do in overtime,” Valentic said. “Were we going to continue to attack with more numbers or do we pull some guys back? I was thinking about what my overtime strategy was going to be. I didn’t think we were going to get one like that. That was pretty lucky; special too.”

A foul with 24 seconds left set the Hornets up with a free kick near midfield.

Jeremy Lunka booted the ball to the middle of the 18-yard box, where it ricocheted off a Cardinal defender and bounced to the right flank where Josip Mijic-Barisic then crossed the ball to the left side.

Lutz was in the right place at the right time.

“I was just like kind of hesitating going up the field,” Lutz said. “I tried to stay at the top of the box and I kind of got a little lucky. It just fell there, I kept my patience and I just hit it.”

Cardinal’s season came to an end with the Huskies closing out the year with a 10-7-1 mark. The 10 wins were the most in program history.

“My guys, from where we’ve come in the last three years and more specifically where we’ve come from midseason on, we can play with absolutely anybody,” said Cardinal coach Mike Topalian. “Our defense, led by Zane Drebus and Alex Hutchinson and some of the other guys, is just tough as nails, hard-nosed. We’ve gone punch for punch with some of the best teams in Northeast Ohio and even in the state. I’m really proud of them. The senior class is just that, all class. They play the right way. They don’t complain or whine; they just work hard. I’m just so proud of all nine of them.”

Kirtland improved to 10-5-2 and will travel to second-seeded Cortland Maplewood on Tuesday for a district semifinal game. The Rockets are 16-1 and have outscored their opponents 140-10 this season.

Senior Thomas Rink leads the Rockets with 58 goals and 10 assists.

“Every game is going to be a battle,” Valentic said. “It comes down to whether or not we can maintain the intensity and energy going forward.”

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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