Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In the first 2:15 of the game, Westlake got goals from juniors Paul Columbro and Adam Sandor to get a leg up on visiting Kenston. While that 2-0 lead didn’t last for long, it still managed to set the tone for the Demon lacrosse team.
Westlake, getting a hat trick from junior Jake Bechtel and a big defensive play from Columbro down the stretch, held on in the final seconds to beat Kenston, 9-8 Saturday afternoon at sun-drenched Reed Field.
“Our goal is to start out fast and get out on top of people,” said Westlake head coach Bill Bongers, whose team moved to 6-3 on the season.
“Usually we play better when we’re ahead. Our other goal is to win each quarter. I think we tied them in the first quarter, but the rest of the quarters were pretty good for us. Kenston is a tough team. They don’t back down from anybody. They play all four quarters.
“Their players are very competitive, and it’s always a dogfight any time we play,” he said.
The Bombers, now 5-3, were coming off one of their biggest wins of the season. They knocked Chagrin Falls from the ranks of the unbeaten Friday night, 16-13, in a game that certainly got Bongers’ attention.
“Chagrin has a very good team, so if Kenston beats them by 2-3 goals, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Bongers said. “When I saw that score last night, I was worried and concerned.
“But our kids get all the credit. They worked hard for four quarters and came out of here today with a win,” he added.
Kenston, now 5-3, bounced back with a pair of unanswered goals in the first quarter to tie the game at 2-2. Things were all tied up again early in the second quarter at 4-4, but sophomore Chris Humer’s second goal of the game with 4:45 left in the half gave the Demons the lead for good.
Bechtel’s first goal, with an assist from sophomore Nathan Greenberg, had the Demons back up by two. But the Bombers got a man-up goal from Logan Lambert with 2:20 left to cut the Westlake lead to one.
In the meantime, the Kenston defense was pushing the issue. The Bombers were double-teaming often, and also employed pressure in the Demons’ half of the field in an attempt to tilt the game in their favor.
“Were aren’t used to what they were trying to do to us defensively,” admitted Bongers, whose team saw considerable pressure on its own half of the field in the second half.
“They’re the first team that’s actually come out and tried to pressure us this season. Our kids handled that really well. We work on that in practice because we know teams at some point will do that to us.
“That preparation helped us. Today, we didn’t have a lot of depth because of injuries, and that pressure tends to wear teams down. But I thought we handled it well,” he added.
The two teams battled on even terms in the second 24 minutes. Bechtel opened the third with a goal that went in high over the left shoulder of Kenston goalie Luke Osteyic. His hat trick goal came off a Columbro assist at the 3:47 mark and gave the Demons an 8-6 lead.
Kenston answered on a Joe Tomcufick goal, but Sandor used his height advantage to score over a defender and give the Demons a 9-7 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, Kenton’s defense pitched a shutout, while the offense got the Bombers closer on a Lambert goal with 1:55 left in the game. Kenston won the ensuing face-off, and Lambert got off another point-blank shot.
But Westlake goalie Paul Freedman, who had a number of big saves throughout the game, denied Lambert with his 14th save of the game. Then in the final 30 seconds, Columbro stole the ball to allow the Demons to run out the clock.
“Columbro does a lot of great things for us out there that people don’t notice,” Bongers said.
“One thing he does is create a lot of turnovers for us. That kind of stuff, those things kind of things show up in the scorebook as hustle goals. He’s one of our leaders when is comes to effort and hustle.”
“And Freedman is one of the best goalies in Northeast Ohio. He’s been starting since he was a freshman. He’s always been a great shot stopper. The one things that has really improved with him is that he sees the field when we clear the ball. He makes great decisions.
“He’s like an extra offensive player out there this year for us. That’s where I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his game,” he added.
The schedule gets even tougher for the Demons, beginning with a 5 p.m. game Tuesday at Shaker Heights. Then on Friday, they travel to perennial state powerhouse Hudson. Bongers feels his team is prepared for the challenge ahead.
“The difference this year is that our younger guys now have some experience,” Bongers said. “We’ve got guys who have played as freshmen and sophomores.
“Now they’re juniors, plus we also have some first-year guys who are great athletes and play other sports. They bring a certain competitiveness to our team and a toughness that we’ve lacked some years. It gives them a confidence too,” he added.