Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Everybody knows that Halloween is a time for ghosts, goblins and trick or treat.
But Halloween 2012 will always be remembered for also having more than it’s fair share of Demons.
Westlake continued it’s winning ways on the tournament trail, drawing first blood in late in the first half and carving out a 3-0 win over Medina in a boys Division I Region 2 semifinal game at Nordonia’s Boliantz Stadium.
Wednesday night’s win sends the Demons into the Elite 8 and Saturday’s regional championship game at Sandusky’s Cedar Point Stadium. There, Westlake will face a Sylvania Southview team that edged out Anthony Wayne, 2-1, in the other half of the bracket in Toledo.
Saturday’s matchup is scheduled to kick off at 10:30 a.m.
For the second straight game, Westlake faced cold and rainy conditions as well as the opponent. But as it turned out, those conditions favored the Demons when they got their first goal from senior forward Chris Korek.
The Demons had some chances early on, but the Bees’ defense was up to the challenge. In the 20th minute, for example, Nick Wertman took a cross from Omar Salem and had a point-blank opportunity in the crease. But Medina defender Noah Hastings seemingly flew in to block the shot with his legs, keeping the game scoreless.
A few minutes later, Korek got his chance. He got off a solid shot from the middle from about 20 yards out that looked like it would be stopped by Medina keeper Dean McNeil. The Medina junior dropped down to smother the ball, which was right in front of him, but bobbled it.
As a result, the elusive ball slipped behind him and over the line for Westlake’s first goal with 15:15 left in the first half.
“I got lucky that spun in,” admitted Korek with a grin. “I got a little spin on the ball, and that’s what can happen when it’s wet. It just kind of sneaks by.
“Getting the first goal has been the key to our success because it takes the breath out of the other team. Then we came back and got them while they were down with our second goal,” he added.
Less than two minutes later, the Demons struck for that second goal when senior Nick Wertman took a 40-plus yard free kick from Sean Bigley and scored on a header to his right. With 13:42 left in the half, Westlake had a 2-0 lead. Wertman nearly made it 3-0 before the half, but his shot from the left side just missed wide in the 40th minute.
“I told our guys we’re as good as anybody,” said Demons head coach Mike Besu, whose team moved to 15-3-3 on the season. “But at the same time, you need some breaks to go your way.
“You need the ball to bounce your way, and under conditions like that, hey...sometimes I’d rather be lucky than good. Today in the first half, I thought we made the most out of our opportunities. We had some great chances and some great looks at the goal.
“We didn’t finish those, but then we got that goal by Chris and we were fine after that,” he added.
“We were really positive,” Wertman said. “We had heard that they liked to score early and that they were really compact defensively. We knew if we could hold them early on and get an early goal, they’d have to be chasing the rest of the game.
“That’s what we did. We did catch a break on that first goal. But after that, it was an even game and we took care of our chances,” he added.
Wertman’s second goal came on a free kick from about 22 yards out with 33:28 left in the game. He lined up the ball just outside the box on the right side and drilled it off Medina’s wall and just inside the far post beyond Stamper’s reach.
“That was the second time that’s happened for me this season,” Wertman said. “Those are always kind of lucky when they happen. But I caught it good, did what I wanted to do and caught the keeper going the wrong way with the deflection.
“A 2-0 lead is a hard lead to have because if they score, the momentum completely shifts. But once you get up 3-0, it’s a more comfortable lead to defend. And give all the credit to our defense because they’ve kept us in this tournament,” he added.
The Demon defense recorded it’s fourth shutout of the tournament turning away 10 Medina shot attempts. Senior keeper Jamie Lackner recoded his 14th shutout of the season with five saves.
“It’s really easy for me because I don’t have to make a lot of crazy saves,” Lackner said. “Our defense does a great job. Most of the shots are weak or right at me, so the guys in front of me are doing a great job.
“That makes you feel safe back there. The pressure isn’t on you most of the time, and when it is you try to do whatever you can to stop the ball,” he added.
“We’re as good as anybody that’s left in the tournament,” Besu said. “We’ve got to make our own breaks, and now we have a tough game against Southview. But I’ll take may chances against them or anybody else.
“Hopefully we can continue on. We’ve got four shutouts in a row in the playoffs, so it’s hard to score on us. I’m not saying we can’t be beat, but it’s going to take something special to beat us the way we’re playing right now,” he said.
“I went my sophomore year and it was the greatest experience,” Wertman said of Saturday’s upcoming regional final. “Now we have a chance to go to state, and not many teams get a chance to do that.
“We’re part of the Elite 8 now, and it feels good,” he added.
Video coming soon.