Only one problem: The Phoenix couldn’t close the deal.
Oberlin wore down the much quicker Blue Devils and took their best shot for most of the match, only to come up empty on eight shots in the final 10 minutes as Independence held on for a 1-0 win in a Division III boys district soccer semifinal.
“They were faster, obviously, and their speed was a big factor in this game,” Oberlin coach Matt Fox said after his team ended the season 12-3-3. “We made an adjustment, and I think that helped. I think we controlled the game pretty well, we just didn’t get as many good opportunities and obviously didn’t finish.”
Independence (14-2-3) scored the game’s only goal at the 28:15 mark of the first half when senior forward Adam Pucella attacked from the right side of the Oberlin box, then hit fellow senior Justin Koeth with a crossing pass which Koeth fired into the Phoenix net.
“With the Flatback Four that they play, we knew that there would be gaps in their defense,” Independence coach Don DuBois said. “With the speed of Justin Koeth and Adam Pucella, we knew that if we could get the ball through, hopefully at least one of them would connect. That’s what they did, and we made the most of it.”
Oberlin senior goalie Josh Kocsis, who had four saves on the night, just couldn’t get to the ball that eventually ended the season for the Phoenix.
“They played a great game,” Kocsis said of Independence. “The one shot they got was on a beautiful ball on a cross, and there was a guy there to finish it.
“I researched them and the teams that they played. We usually play them during the season, but didn’t this year. The teams that we both played, we had similar scores against, so I knew it was going to be a great game. Kudos to them. They have a great team and I hope they go all the way.”
Oberlin outshot Independence 12-11 and had plenty of opportunities down the stretch to tie the match. But with the play of the Blue Devils defense, especially junior goalie Matt Malarik, Independence was able to withstand the Phoenix flurry.
“I have real confidence in my defense,” DuBois said. “We have good senior leadership back there. It was a struggle. I knew they had a good team, and I told the boys at halftime that they had a run in them. I told them to keep their cool, and they did. I’m very proud of my boys.”
Independence will face top-seeded Elyria Catholic for the district championship Saturday at 1 p.m. DuBois knows it will take a top-notch effort to get past the Panthers.
“They (EC) are clearly the class of the district, and we’ll have to pull out all the tricks for them,” he said. “But I like the opportunity to play them. I told the boys not to be afraid of them. It’s 80 minutes out on the field. Just play your hearts out and it only takes one. The boys are pumped to keep playing.”
Independence 1, Oberlin 0
- GOALS: Justin Koeth
- ASSISTS: Adam Pucella
- SAVES: (O) Joshua Kocsis4, Dante LaRiccia 1. (I) Matt Malarik 9
- SHOTS ON GOAL: Oberlin 12, Independence11.
- HALFTIME: Independence, 1-0.
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or at email@example.com.