Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Through 80 minutes of tournament soccer, Westlake had battled state-ranked Medina on even terms in a scoreless draw. In fact, one could argue that the young Demons had given the Bees all they could handle in the second half.
But with one big swing of her right leg, Medina’s Nicole Bennett had her team moving on to the Elite 8.
With time running out in the first overtime period, Bennett launched a perfectly-placed 25-yarder on the move. The ball somehow found the back of the net and gave Medina a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Demons in a Division I regional semifinal Thursday night at Rocky River Stadium.
The win moved the ninth-ranked Bees to 13-5-2 on the season and into Saturday’s regional finals. There, Medina’s season came to an end in a 2-0 loss to Perrysburg at Sandusky’s Cedar Point Stadium.
Westlake, the Southwestern Conference and Rocky River District champions, closed out the season at 11-7-1. But it took a perfect shot on the part of Bennet to make that happen.
With the Bees applying pressure throughout the overtime, the Westlake defense and keeper Alexis Carpenter were a busy bunch at the south end of the field. But for the first 13:46, the Demon defense was up to the challenge.
Medina kept the ball in the Westlake third most of those 13-plus minutes and nearly pulled out the win in the 88th minute. Off a Amy Bobonik corner, Carpenter made back-to-back saves on close range shots, the second one on a diving attempt.
The Demons managed one push moments later, but Madison Dunlap’s cross into the box was scooped up by Medina keeper Jordan Reynolds. With just under two minutes remaining, the Bees made another advance.
This time, the ball made it’s way to Bennett, who was on the near side. The Medina junior made a move to her right away from a Westlake defender and sent a high, arching shot toward the Demon goal.
As Carpenter made a valiant leaping attempt, the ball evaded her fingertips and made it just under the crossbar to give Medina the only goal it needed.
“That was a heck of a shot,” said Westlake head coach Scott Jones. “I don’t think you could have placed it any better than that.
“It was over Alexis’ fingers by about an inch and probably under the bar by an inch. I mean, an inch either way it hits the post or Alexis makes the save. It was a great shot, it really was.
“What are you going to do?” he added.
“I can’t say enough about Nicole Bennett,” said Medina head coach Doug Coreno. “What a great kid, and what a great player.
“She works so hard and has scored so many big goals for us over the past couple of weeks,” Coreno said. “When we lost Hannah Ludwig for the rest of the season with a concussion, we wondered where that goal-scoring punch would come from.
“I give Nicole all the credit in the world. What a great effort from her tonight,” he added.
Bennett’s overtime heroics overshadowed Westlake’s solid second half of play. The Demons, featuring a lineup loaded with underclassmen, dominated possession and had a number of opportunities to win the game in regulation.
In the 45th minute, senior Maddie Sandhu hit a free kick from about 45 yards out. Westlake got a header attempt to the right of the net, with the ball passing in front of Reynolds and toward the left post.
With Reynolds in chase, the ball skipped just wide of the post, keeping the game scoreless.
Westlake played the ball into the box later in the 64th minute on a Megan Konrad header, but Reynolds was able to turn away the shot. Early in the 70th minute, Lauren Hurst had a chance on a long ball that made it’s way into the box. The race was on, but Reynolds just did get to the ball first.
“We got after them in the second half,” Jones said. “They probably had some better opportunities against us in the first half, and we controlled the game in the second half.
“But Media’s a great team with a great program. They’re always right there at the end of the year, and they’ve won state titles. We don’t have anything to be ashamed of. We thought it was a 50-50 game going into overtime.
“Again, you just can’t say enough about our kids and how hard they played. It just hurts right now. For the season to come to to a sudden end like that is a rough thing to deal with. But that’s sports, and hats off to them. That girl made an incredible shot,” he added.
Coreno said it came down to a a more determined effort from his team in OT.
“We just talked like we did before the Copley game and said ‘hey, this is it. This is our season,’” Said Coreno, referring to his team’s 3-2 overtime win in the Brunswick District title game. “Are we going to practice tomorrow, or are we going to turn in our uniforms?
“Our girls came out and absolutely dominated in the overtime period. They got a well-deserved goal and a well-deserved win, so I give them a lot of credit tonight. It was a good ball into Nicole, and a difficult ball for her to handle.
“She brought it down, made the turn and struck that ball beautifully,” he added.
Despite the loss, Jones felt there were plenty of positives in getting his young team a healthy dose of tournament experience.
“Our kids learned a lot being here,” Jones said. “We got an extra two, three weeks of practice in with our youger players. There were only 15 other Division I teams in the state that were still playing.
“I think we hung in there pretty well against one of the better teams, one that has been ranked in the state all year. We had a good showing. Unfortunately tonight, it just didn’t go our way,” he concluded.