Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by David Richard of Ohio Sports Shooters
When Nick Wertman scored midway through the first half, the Westlake boys soccer team was one step closer to reaching a preseason goal.
And when the senior forward scored again with 19:02 left in the game, the Demons were able to cross another goal off their list and begin looking forward to the next one.
Wertman’s two goals were all the Southwestern Conference champions needed as the Westlake defense pitched it’s third-straight tournament shutout in a 2-0 win at Strongsville’s Foltz Field Saturday night. The win gave the Demons the Rocky River Division I district championship and sent them into regional play for the third time since 2004.
Westlake, now 14-3-3, will face Medina Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Nordonia High School. The Bees reached the regional semifinals with their 1-0 win over Highland to win the Brunswick district crown.
On a cold, bone-chilling night in Strongsville, Westlake was able to gain the upper hand in what had been an evenly-played game during the first 19 minutes. The Demons took the 1-0 lead when Wertman took a pass from fellow senior Chris Korek and beat Mustang keeper Matt Stephano with 20:29 left in the first 40 minutes.
“We knew that we needed to get that first goal,” admitted Besu, whose team had recorded shutout wins against Olmsted Falls (4-0) and Avon (2-0) to reach the district finals.
“Me and Tobey are friends, and these kids have been playing each other for years,” said Besu, referring to Mustangs head coach Tobey Cook. “We knew that it was going to come down to one goal, two at the most. These are even teams, but we were able to make the most out of our chances.
“We have a guy who can score the ball, and that was the difference,” he added.
Wertman scored again in the second half, this time taking the ball and advancing it from just inside the midfield line. He eluded a Mustang defender, made a move past Stephan and buried the shot to give the Demons the commanding 2-0 advantage.
“That was huge,” Besu said. “It was their home field, and they were possessing the ball. The main thing was we didn’t want to make a mistake. We knew what they were going to do. We knew they were going to play side to side, we knew they were going to spread us out.
“But we wanted them to do that. Let them play one step forward, two steps back. After we scored the first goal, the pressure was on them. We discussed it at halftime, and we knew if we could get the second goal it would be a bonus.
“At that point, anything can happen. But we knew we were not going to give up three goals and lose this game,” he added.
At the other end of the pitch, the Westlake defense was turning back shot after shot. Senior keeper Jamie Lackner, who had six saves on the night, had plenty of help in front of him when the Mustangs put the ball in the box.
“Our defense has been stellar all season long,” Besu said. “We have some of the best defenders in our league, and we don’t give up many goals. As long as we score one or two goals, we have a chance to win every game.
“We’ve had some name players on defense in the past, but this is a hard-working defense. They get along and like to play with each other. Like I said earlier in the year, this is the kind of team that might have a lot of younger players, but they play as a team,” he said.
Westlake co-captain Sean Bigley, who has anchored that defense throughout the season, was in complete agreement.
“I have to give a lot of credit to out other defenders because they’re all solid,” Bigley said of fellow back line players Mohammed Mustafa, Dan McNeeley and Clay Wichman.
“They all stepped up and came to play today,” Bigley said. “I’m just talking out there, telling them how to play and what to do. They’re the ones doing all the work.
“It’s a matter of organization,” Bigley said. “It’s knowing that we have a man there, trusting our guys and knowing what they’re going to do. We know that a guy will be there and that they’ll be able to cover it up and get the ball out of there, especially when it’s right there in the box.”
Westlake advanced to the regional tournament for the first time since 2010. That season, the Demons defeated SWC rival Brecksville, 1-0, before before seeing their tournament run end with a 4-0 loss to Toledo St. John’s in the final.
In 2007, Westlke defeated Sylvan Southview and Strongsville to win the regional championship and advance to the state semifinals. The Demons were denied a chance to play for the state championship with a loss to St. Ignatius.
“It’s exciting, just like two years ago,” Bigley said. “It’s something only a select few can feel. Nobody can take winning the district, winning the SWC away from you. It’s one of the greatest feelings, and to be able to do it with these guys make it feel even better.”
“We’ve got two of our goals now, so hopefully we can get number three,” Besu added.