ROCKY RIVER — Maybe Elyria Catholic sophomore Liam O’Halloran is too young to know he should have been nervous when Saturday’s Division III district soccer final against Oberlin went to double overtime.
Then again, maybe if O’Halloran would have felt the pressure of the situation, the district championship trophy would not be sitting in the Panthers’ trophy case next to the trophies from 2010 and ’11.
But he didn’t. Instead, O’Halloran scored both Elyria Catholic goals on the night, the game-winner coming in the second OT period to give the Panthers a 2-1 win at Rocky River High School.
The game-winning goal came in the 99th minute after O’Halloran and Gage Jarvis busted out on a two-on-one breakaway.
Jarvis passed the ball from the left wing to a charging O’Halloran, who punched his team’s ticket to the regional by kicking the goal into the back of the net.
“I didn’t feel any pressure, we just felt like we can’t stop,” O’Halloran said. “We had to keep pressuring them and win the game in overtime and not go to penalties. (Gage) and I play really well together. He played me a perfect ball and I just slotted it home.”
The Panthers (10-7-1) are going to the Division III regionals for the second year in a row. The first of their three straight district titles came in Division II.
Junior midfielder Michael Saddler is the only Elyria Catholic player who has been around for all three championships.
“I knew I needed to help my team do this tonight because I knew that to be the first EC starter to win three district championships would be a great accomplishment,” Saddler said.
Saddler had the assist on O’Halloran’s first goal in the 50th minute that tied the match at 1.
When asked to compare this year’s team to the past two, Saddler said the past success made this year’s team even better.
“The alumni before us showed us everything we needed to win and we just used that to fuel our victory,” he said.
The Panthers will face Hawken, which defeated Wickliffe 4-1 Saturday, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Twinsburg.
“I’m going to tell my teammates we need to regroup and it’s like a fresh start,” Saddler said. “Regional is a whole different story. We’ve never made it out of the regional semifinals before but this year I think that’s going to change.”
Oberlin (15-3-1) struck first, in the fourth minute, when Sam Weiss scored off of a Liam McMillin assist. Weiss ended his senior season among the state leaders in goals with 40.
“Overall we played pretty well tonight, the team should be proud because we had a great season,” Oberlin coach Matt Fox said. “We never quite got into a rhythm with our passing game. We usually play well on turf but the wind was also a factor.”
As the top-seeded team, Oberlin was originally scheduled to host the match, but two days of rain combined with a football game Friday night rendered its field unplayable and the decision was made to move the match to the artificial surface at Rocky River.
First-year Elyria Catholic coach Attila Csiszar took over a team with just two seniors on the roster but never doubted the Panthers could make a return trip to regionals.
“I told the boys that even though they are young, to put that aside,” he said. “Soccer is a game of heart. These boys definitely have the technical ability and they also showed they have the heart to be winners.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 2, Oberlin 1
GOALS: (O) Weiss (4th minute); (EC) O’Halloran (50th minute, 99th minute)
ASSISTS: (O) L. McMillin.; (EC) Saddler, Jarvis
GOALKEEPERS: (O) Ferguson (12 saves); (EC) Conroy (14 saves)
FOULS: Oberlin 9, EC 17
CORNER KICKS: Oberlin 3, EC 4
OFFSIDES: Oberlin 1
YELLOW CARDS: (O) J. McMillin (43rd minute); (EC) C. Spaetzel (47th minute); K. Spaetzel (67th minute)
HALFTIME: Oberlin 1-0