As the clock hit zero on the Avon Lake boys soccer team’s 3-1 win over Strongsville Wednesday, the Shoremen’s focus immediately shifted.
Advancing to a District final brings enough excitement to a team in any situation, but that excitement is enhanced when the opponent is that team’s biggest rival.
That’s the situation Avon Lake has in front of it Saturday when it squares off against the undefeated Avon Eagles for a District championship at North Ridgeville High School.
The Shoremen (14-4-2) won the Southwestern Conference this season with a record of 8-1, just edging the Eagles (16-0-2) who finished 7-0-2 in the SWC. In the lone matchup between these two teams in the regular season, the Eagles squeaked out a 1-0 win.
Avon beat Amherst 3-0 on Wednesday to get to the District final.
“None of us wanted to play Amherst,” Avon Lake head coach Pete Klepek said. “Avon’s our rival, they got us early on in the season, we wanted this game. Let’s go have some fun. If you wanna be the best, you gotta play to best. (Avon coach Chris Dore’ has) one of the best teams right now. They’re up there in the rankings so we wanna go at them.”
To get to this point, the No. 3 Shoremen needed a great performance against No. 2 Strongsville on road. They got just that. Despite only holding a 10-8 advantage in shots and losing the corner kick battle 7-0, it was Avon Lake’s relentless attack on the Mustangs’ net that made the difference. The Shoremen ended the match with a 7-1 lead in shots on goal.
“We talked about every single one of the corners,” Klepek said. “We knew they had set plays, the boys kind of knew, and they just had to stay focused and stay with their man. I want to give credit to Spencer (Chippi) and all the other seniors. (They’re) the strength of this team and you can tell they’re all great kids. Every single one of those seniors is why we’re winning today and moving on.”
Opportunities persisted on both sides for the better half of the first 20 minutes. Strongsville had multiple runs and would-be goals called back in the first half due to being offsides.
In the 22nd minute, however, senior midfielder Drew Del Giudice broke the scoreless tie.
Off a deep ball from senior defender Derek Stepak, Del Giudice possessed the ball, waited for his opening and slipped it past Strongsville’s backup keeper Zak Kakos (four saves).
Del Giudice’s night wasn’t done, though. With just five minutes before halftime and the Shoremen with the ball near Strongsville’s box, the senior turned, saw an opening and ripped a shot on net.
The ball clanged off the crossbar and fell into the back of the net to put Avon Lake up 2-0.
“I saw the ball going forward (on my first goal), … I tried to get there at the back so when it came through, I finished it home and that really was a momentum changer for us.,” Del Giudice said. “I saw Nate Summerfield was challenging for the ball (before my second goal) so when he was in for the challenge, he put it back in toward me and it was just instincts. I just finished it right there.”
Strongsville added its lone goal in the 44th minute when, off a cross from Michael Neumann, Petar Janjetkovic’s shot tipped off the hands of Zach Glesius (zero saves) and dropped into the net.
The Mustangs’ aggressive attack continued, forcing four more corners in the second half, but the game was sealed when senior forward Danny Lambert’s shot from the top-left corner of the box eluded Kakos in net and gave the Shoremen their, eventually final, 3-1 lead.
After the game, the celebration was quick before the focus became just one thing: Avon.
“We owe them one,” Del Giudice said.
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