KIRTLAND—Entering the 2014 season, Hawken had won 13 straight games over Kirtland from 2004-2013. The Hawks had outscored the Hornets 67-13 during that stretch and had ended the Hornets’ season in the playoffs three times, including last year in the district championship game.
On Tuesday, the Hornets beat the Hawks in a Division III district semifinal, 4-0. The win was Kirtland’s second straight over Hawken after a 4-3 regular season win back on Aug. 28.
“This is the first time we beat them in the playoffs,” said Kirtland coach John Valentic. “To beat them twice in one season, I wouldn’t have believed that if you told me at the beginning of the year. Looking at our performances and what we’ve done all year, we deserve it. We played a fantastic game.”
Hawken had Kirtland on its heels for nearly the entire first half but the Hornets, who improved to 12-3-3 overall, never flinched.
The Hawks fired off several first half shots at Kirtland first-year keeper Tommy Loncar, including one from point blank range, but failed to find the back of the net.
Ryan Friedenberg finally broke the scoreless tie when he knocked in a rebound from a Bradley Hauptman free kick with 8:41 to go in the opening half.
“We put him into that holding midfield role and that’s what we talked about, holding his position and waiting for those rebounds,” Valentic said of Friedenberg. “It wasn’t the most powerful kick but it was good enough. I think the key to that was he was in the right spot and made the right decision and put it into the goal.”
Luke Sabbath extended Kirtland’s lead to 2-0 at the 36:09 mark of the second half. Another Sabbath goal, just 30 seconds later, made it 3-0 and he notched the hat trick at the 22:14 mark.
“I was confident with Luke and his speed. I think he didn’t play as well as he could have until the last 10 minutes of the first half,” Valentic said. “I think he got some confidence then and then in the second half, forget about it. He played like there was no one in front of him.”
Valentic credited his midfielders, specifically freshman Stjepan Mijic-Barisic, for their efforts in spreading the field and holding off the Hawken attack.
“I think for me, the MVP of today’s game was Stjepan Mijic-Barisic holding the midfield, breaking the play. As a freshman, now he’s not a freshman with 15 games in, I couldn’t ask for more,” Valentic said. “It was like he was born to play that position. That was huge. With that we could attack and play.
Brad Hauptman was awesome on the flank beating guys with confidence. We were dangerous. It wasn’t just Luke; it was a whole host of guys.”
Valentic never wavered from his strategy, even when the Hawks controlled the early portion of the game. His patience was rewarded.
“I couldn’t have predicted that result,” he said. “The first 20 minutes, they had us on our heels a little bit. They had more possession. The key to beat that was staying organized and not giving up a goal. The fact that we didn’t concede a goal and almost scored helped. That really helped get the butterflies out. You know, 4-0 is a bit story book but we’ll take it. Hopefully the story continues on Saturday.”
With the win, the Hornets advance to Saturday’s Division III district championship game against Beachwood. The Bison defeated Gilmour Academy, 5-1, to set up the rematch of the Chagrin Valley Conference rivals.
Beachwood won the regular season match, 6-1.