MACEDONIA — Cheikh Bassel came to Medina from Senegal this year by way of Kentucky.
His appearance on the artificial turf at Nordonia High on Wednesday night was fortuitous for him and the Medina boys soccer team.
A lanky and swift exchange student, Bassel scored his first goal of the season and first ever in Ohio. And it ended Avon Lake’s dream season.
Bassel kicked in a rebound in the 61st minute and it was all Medina needed for a 1-0 win over the Shoremen in a tough Division I regional semifinal. It was the 15th shutout of the season for the Bees and goalkeeper Dean McNeil. Seven of the 15 have been scoreless ties.
McNeil and the Bees have allowed just six goals on the season. With the victory, they improved to 11-1-8 and move on to Saturday’s noon regional final against either Whitehouse Anthony Wayne or Toledo St. John in Sandusky.
Avon Lake’s remarkable season ended 12-5-3 after 11 straight wins. The Shoremen were making their first regional appearance in 15 years.
Actually, Medina nearly scored in the seconds just before Bassel’s goal. Avon Lake goalkeeper Kane Adams made a difficult stop on a hard shot by Andrew Steidl, who had taken a nice crossing pass from Austin Schweppe. The rebound wound up at Bassel’s feet.
“I was kind of nervous when the goalie left the ball in front of me, because I haven’t scored this season yet,” Bassel said.
“This was my first goal and I wanted to make it so perfect.”
There was nothing Adams could have done about it. Even so, it was a tough loss.
“This season has meant a lot to us as a school,” he said. “To finally bring a district title back for the first time since 1998 is special. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played with a greater group of guys, and that’s why this is so tough.”
Medina coach Mark Malikowski said he decided he would insert Bassel, a non-starter, if the Bees didn’t score in the first 15 minutes or so of the second half.
“We thought if things didn’t change after the half that maybe we’d try somebody different,” Malikowski said. “He’s done a great job of being ready all year when he’s been called up and it was so great that he finished.”
Both teams played well defensively. Avon Lake got off just six shots, three on goal. And the Shoremen limited Medina to eight total shots, just four on goal.
“We didn’t have a ton of attempts tonight and I don’t think we tested their keeper a lot,” first-year Shoremen coach Matt DeCapua said. “They did a nice job of keeping the ball out of the box, taking away opportunities. But to be honest, they haven’t scored a lot of goals, but they also haven’t given up many.
“This is obviously very disappointing, because we’ve accomplished a lot. But it’s been 15 years (since Avon Lake’s last regional appearance) for these kids and to come out and get it done in our first year is (gratifying). We’re very proud of them and we’re proud to be Shoremen.”
Medina’s 15 shutouts in 20 games is a remarkable statistic. McNeil, the Bees keeper, was asked about the work of the defenders and midfielders whose job is to keep the ball away from him and the Medina goal.
“What bad things could I say about my defense?” McNeil asked. “I mean, come on, the 80 minutes they put in were incredible.
Fifteen shutouts is as incredible to me as it is to you. It’s unfathomable.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Medina 1, Avon Lake 0
GOALS: (M) Max Becker 2 (61st minute).
SAVES: (AL) Kane Adams 5; (M) Dean McNeil 3.
SHOTS: Avon Lake 6; Medina 3.
SHOTS ON GOAL: Avon Lake 3; Medina 4.
CORNER KICKS: Avon Lake 3; Medina 3.
GOAL KICKS: Avon Lake 6; Medina 5.
HANDBALLS: Medina 1.
FOULS: Avon Lake 6; Medina 9.
YELLOW CARDS: None.