ASHLAND — Sometimes a soccer match can be more like a marathon. The team that sprints out to a fast start is often left in the dust by an opponent that finishes strong and steady.
Such was the case Wednesday night when Elyria Catholic scored in the second minute of its Division III regional semifinal match against Mansfield Christian only to see the Flames come back to score two unanswered goals and escape Ashland Community Stadium with a 2-1 win.
The Panthers (15-4-1), No. 3 in the final Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association poll, could not have asked for a better start taking the opening kick and quickly getting deep into the Mansfield Christian end of the field, earning a corner kick after little more than 60 seconds had run off the clock.
All-Ohio midfielder Michael Saddler placed the corner kick perfectly in front of the Flames net where it bounced off multiple Panthers before landing in the back of the net to make it 1-0.
The goal was originally credited to senior forward Carl Spaetzel but at halftime the official scorer amended the scoring decision and gave the goal to junior forward Gage Jarvis.
“As soon as we scored that first goal, everyone knew we had the momentum and we just kept it on them,” Saddler said. “We had to keep it on them for the entire game but we let down, and then we got some chances at the end but we just couldn’t finish.”
Elyria Catholic was inches from going up by two on multiple occasions in the first half. Jeff Ruiz took a free kick from 40 yards out that hit off the inside of the goal post before bouncing away. On another occasion, Flames goalkeeper Caleb Young had to leave his feet to make a save on a Spaetzel shot.
No. 2 Mansfield Christian (19-1-0) withstood the Panthers early challenge to tie the match in the 32nd minute on a goal by sophomore David Cochran.
“We were unlucky in that we hit the post a couple of times at the start,” Elyria Catholic coach Attila Csiszar said. “If those go in that makes a huge difference in the game. The first 10 minutes we came out and were strong and on the attack. In the second half, it turned into a real battle between two great teams.”
With just five minutes left in regulation, Mansfield Christian sophomore Sam Paul made the play that sent the Flames to the regional final, where they will face Kalida on Saturday.
Paul took a pass from Cochran and fired off a shot that went directly into the upper right corner of the net from 30 yards away. Paul’s shot was so well placed that Elyria Catholic goalkeeper Marty Conroy had no chance to make a save.
“David just played a great ball to me, I lined up my shot and as soon as I struck the ball I knew it was going in,” Paul said.
“Tonight was the first time we were scored upon in the tournament so it was tough when we fell behind, but we knew out seniors would come up big and we could pull it out. We knew they ran their offense through No. 28 (Liam O’Halloran) and he is a really special player. Once we were able to contain him we knew we could win.”
Each team wasted a prime opportunity to take a second-half lead before Paul’s game-winner.
In the 54th minute, Conroy made a diving save of a Brandon Mount shot and with Conroy still on the ground Cochran hit the far post with a shot off the deflection while facing an open net. In the 64th minute, Jarvis broke free down the near sideline and outran the entire Flames defense, including goalkeeper Young, who was caught out of position at the top of the box. However, his shot sailed high above the crossbar.
“The boys played a good game tonight. I am very happy with the season,” Csiszar said. “I have had the opportunity to see the boys transform into excellent soccer players. I could not ask for a better season, except if I could pick up a state championship trophy at the end of the year. We went deep in the tournament again. It’s bittersweet but I wish Mansfield Christian well and I hope they keep going.”
After his final high school soccer match, Saddler was able to mask his disappointment and reflect on what he and his teammates have accomplished over the past four years.
“Thinking back, we’ve had amazing records, won multiple district championships and beat some of the best teams in the state,” Saddler said. “The thing that is so great about this program is that we did it all together as a team.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mansfield Christian 2, Elyria Catholic 1
GOALS: (EC): Jarvis 2nd minute; (MC): Cochran 32nd minute, Paul 75th minute.
ASSISTS: (EC): Spaetzel; (MC) Ernsberger, Cochran.
SAVES: (EC): Conroy 9; (MC): Young 7
SHOTS ON GOAL: (EC)8; (MC) 11
CORNER KICKS: (EC) 5; (MC) 3
FOULS: (EC) 16; (MC) 8
YELLOW CARDS: (EC) O’Halloran 56th minute