Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In the midst of its toughest stretch of games so far this season, Rocky River head coach Steve Anderson knew his Pirates would be facing a number of challenges.
After an exhilarating 7-6 win Saturday afternoon at St. Edward, Anderson’s Pirates had faced the first challenge head on and came out on top. Tuesday night, an early 4-1 deficit against visiting Kent Roosevelt had River in unfamiliar territory.
Even more challenges lied ahead.
The Pirates rallied in the second half, tying the score at 6-6, then taking the lead in the first 22 seconds of the fourth quarter. But the Roughriders’ Troy Haren found the back of the net with 37.8 seconds left in the game, allowing Kent Roosevelt to escape town with an 8-7 win.
River’s next challenge has the look of a double-edged sword.
Not only do the Pirates have to bounce back after a tough defeat, they must do so at Hawken on Friday night. The 8-1 Hawks are the top-ranked team in the Division II Northeast and lost their first game of the season last week against University School.
“Our guys fought hard, and that’s all you can ask for from your team,” Anderson said as his team filed out of the locker room at 7-2.
“We fell a little bit short, but I think there are a lot of positives to take from this game,” Anderson said. “We want to be in fights like this in the regular season to help prepare us for the playoffs. I was proud of the guys the way they battled back.”
With the score tied at 6-6, River took the lead for the first time on the night when senior midfielder Andreas Tjotjos scored his third goal of the night. It was an unassisted goal with 11:38 left in regulation and capped off a 4-0 Pirate run in the second half.
But a little over two minutes later, Haren scored his second goal of the game for the ‘Riders to tie the game back up at 7-7. Both teams had opportunities for the game winner over the remaining nine minutes.
The Pirates, with a man up, had a shot go just wide right with 3:12 left in the game. With a minute remaining, another River shot was stopped by Roosevelt goalie Tyler Gallagher. The ‘Riders quickly scooped up the ball and got it again to Haren, who scored an unassisted goal that proved to be the game-winner.
“The shots just didn’t fall for us this time,” said Anderson, whose team outshot the ‘Riders 44-26.
“Maybe in another game that could have been 15 goals for us,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. The key for us as a team is to regroup from this and be ready, because we have a game on Friday.
“They’re a well-coached team and have had a strong program for a while in Division I. This is their first year in Division II, and I give them credit tonight. They’re a pretty good team, and I’m just excited that we’re able to be in games like this and have an opportunity at the end to win,” he added.
The Pirates found themselves down 4-1 after one quarter of play, with Roosevelt’s Pat Valerius doing most of the damage. He scored three of the four goals, two of them unassisted, and had the ‘Riders up early despite getting outshot 13-10.
River, however, started to fight back and trailed by only two goals, 5-3, at halftime. The visitors scored first in the second half, but the Pirates scored three unanswered goals to close out the third quarter and tie the game at 6-6.
“We made some adjustments after the first quarter with our shot selection and where we were placing them, which helped tremendously,” said Anderson.
“We made some adjustments on defense too. Overall in the second quarter, we played very well. I think the number of shots we took in the game is an indication of how well we played,” he said.
The first of those three third-quarter goals came from Tjotjos, who scored an unassisted goal from close range 3:41 into the half. The Pirates drew closer when Tom Garibaldi scored off an assist from Michael Henry at the 3:21 mark.
With just 36.6 seconds left in the third, junior Eric Sperli took the ball, ran down the middle of the scoring zone and scored to tie the game and set up the dramatic fourth quarter.
“For our players, it’s a journey, like any other season,” Anderson said. “It’s learning what to do in certain situations. Both our junior varsity and varsity teams rose to the occasion at St. Ed’s. Things fell our way and worked in our favor. Tonight, they didn’t.
“Tonight, you can’t put your finger on what exactly went wrong, but I think a lot of things went right. We played hard. We lost to a good team that we might see again and have a chance to beat down the road in the playoffs.
“Again, it was a hard-fought game on both sides. Now we’ll focus on our next game,” he concluded.
River goalie Aaron Blossey had 13 saves on the night, while Gallagher had 17. Valerius wound up with four goals for Roosevelt, his fourth coming in the second quarter to give the visitors a 5-2 lead.