Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With the final seconds of the first quarter ticking away, Westlake’s Adam Sandor took a pass from Jake Bechtel and zipped the ball past St. Edward goalie Drew Simpson.
That gave the Demons a 3-2 lead over the Eagles, a lead that proved to be short-lived. The visitors exploded for eight goals in the second quarter and fought off a second-half rally by the Demons for a 17-10 win Friday night at Read Field.
It was just the third loss of the season for the young Demons, who fell to 6-3 on the season. St. Edward, behind the brother act of senior co-captains Vince and Joe Gravino, improved to 3-6 heading into Saturday’s matchup with Division II power Rocky River.
Vince Gravino had five goals and a pair of assists, while Joe chipped in with three goals and two assists for St. Edward. It was a big night for the Westlake residents, both of which are moving on to play at the collegiate level next year.
Even when the brother act wasn’t involved in the scoring, the Eagles were able to penetrate the Westlake defense for close-range shots. But there was no doubt as to which two Eagles were causing most of the damage, according to Westlake head coach Bill Bongers.
“I don’t know what the stats are, but they’re definitely the two guys you want to focus on,” said Bongers after the game. “They’re good kids, but I’m glad they’re graduating.
“If we play for four quarters, we can hang with anybody,” Bongers said. “The second quarter, though, they got on top of us a little bit. They’ve got some good players, and when the Gravino brothers get the ball in their stick, they know what to do with it, and they finish.
“Our goal was to keep them shooting from the outside, but they got a bunch of layups in front of our goalie. Paul Freedman is a fantastic goalie for us. I don’t know how many saves he had, but I’d bet he had about 20. He’s the heart and soul of our defense.
“If we keep the other team shooting from the outside, we should win a lot of games. But they were on our doorstep most of the second quarter,” he added.
Down 3-2, St. Edward got things rolling with 8:47 left in the second quarter. That’s when Vince Gravino took a pass from his brother and beat Freedman and the Demon defenders to tie the game at 3-3. The Eagles took their first lead of the game 20 seconds later when Joe Gravino chalked up an unassisted goal.
Westlake responded at the 7:39 mark when senior Andrew Spreng beat Simpson off a pass from Paul Columbro. But at 4-4, St. Edward closed out the half with a 6-1 run that started with an unassisted goal from Pat Rouse.
Vince Gravino had a pair of goals during the run, and brother Joe had one. The Eagles rubbed some salt in the wound with two seconds left in the half when Alex Hildebrandt fired one into the net for a 10-5 lead at the break.
In the second half, the lead grew to 12-5 before Westlake picked itself off the turf and made a run.
Senior midfielder Collin Brooks scored an unassisted goal with 6:44 left in the third quarter, then fellow senior Zach Maxey stole the ball in the Eagles’ defensive zone and scored to cut the visitor’s lead to five. A few seconds later, St. Edward was penalized for a cross check, giving the Demons a one-minute man advantage.
Westlake capitalized on the opportunity 23 seconds later when Spreng scored an unassisted goal to get his team back to within four at 12-8. But with the momentum shifting the Demons’ way, St. Edward made one more push to secure the win.
A goal by Vince Gravino started a 5-0 Eagle run that extended into the early minutes of the fourth quarter. In fact, St. Edward scored two goals in the final 10 seconds of the third quarter to take the wind out of the Demons’ sails.
Westlake closed out the scoring in the game on goals from Sandor and Spreng, his third of the game.
“We gave them a lot of space, and that allowed them to control the ball better in traffic,” Bongers said. “They did a really nice job of packing in their defense, and we were trying to do the same thing. But we have a really young defense, and we’ll learn from this.
“When we watch the video, our kids will see that we’re playing too far out away from the goal. If we keep it in close and give up outside shots, our goalie will make a lot of saves,” he added.
On the flip side of the coin, Bongers felt his offense played well.
“We put up 10 goals, and 10 is one of our magic numbers," he said. “If we can score 10 goals, we should win a lot of games. But when you have the scorers like St. Ed’s has, or like the ones from Toledo St. Francis, and they get up to 12 and 17 goals, it means we have a defensive problem.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can score. We’ve got Columbro and Brooks, who are fantastic players. Brooks is our go-to guy, so he’s always good for at least four points a game, either three goals and an assist or two and two, but they did a good job of defending him today.
“And the good thing about Columbro, Sandor and Bechtel is that they’re all sophomores, so they’re all learning together. It looks good for the next two years,” he added.