Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
In their final regular season games of 2013, both Rocky River and Westlake were looking to build up some momentum with the tournament draw on the horizon.
When the final gun sounded, all that momentum was clearly in the Pirates’ favor.
Senior middie Eric Sperli scored four goals wirth a pair of assists as Rocky River rolled past the visiting Demons, 12-1, last Friday night at River Stadium.
Rocky River bounced back from a narrow 10-9 loss to Chagrin Falls earlier in the week. The Pirates closed out the regular season at 11-2 and began to look ahead toward their goal of returning to the Division II state championship game.
“We know what we have, and we know what we could be,” said River assistant coach Ted Dimond after the game. “We have potential in the room that I think even the players are surprised by sometimes.
“We know that we can do some really, really good things. We just need to play hard, fast for a full game, a full four quarters. When we break it down, it’s as simple as that.
“What we have here is special. We’re excited about what we can do, but we’re not looking too far ahead. We’re hoping that’s where we should be, and frankly, I think that’s where we can be if we continue to play as well as we did tonight,” he added.
A band of Pirates playing at the top of their game was something Westlake probably didn’t need to see. The Demons had already lost four of their previous five games after running through a gauntlet of a schedule that featured Shaker Heights, Hudson, St. Ignatius and Sylvan Southview.
A win 16-7 win over Brunswick stopped the losing streak, but the Pirates proved to be too much to handle on Friday.
Westlake played tough early. The Demons tied the score at one goal apiece when junior midfielder Jake Bechtel spun off a River defender for an unassisted goal at the 8:05 mark. But when junior attacker Evan Jacob scored off a Sperli assist with 5:10 left in the first quarter, it was game on for the Pirates.
River made it 3-1 when sperli scored his first goal of the game with 3:26 left in the quarter. Senior attacker Tom Garibaldi joined in the fray, cutting down the middle and taking a pass from Bobby Perez for the fourth Pirate goal at 1:48.
At that point, Westlake was still in the game. The shots on goal were close, with the Pirates having a slight 9-7 edge. Junior goalie Paul Freedman had three saves, while senior goalie Aaron Blossey had a pair of saves for River.
But as the second quarter got underway, the game’s momentum took a sharp turn toward the Pirates’ bench.
River outshot the Demons 11-3 in the second quarter and went on a 4-0 run to take a commanding 8-1 halftime lead. Junior Brock Riemenschneider started the run with an unassisted goal at 8:22, then Garibaldi scored his second goal - this one unassisted - to make it 6-1 Pirates with 5:09 left in the half.
Riemenschneider struck again with 1:33 left when Sperli found him all alone in front of the Westlake goal. An unassisted gaol from Sperli off the back side with :49.2 left on the clock ended the run.
In the second half, River continued to build its lead. Junior Logan Drell scored from close range off a Perez assist with 6:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sperli-from-Perez connection made an appearance with 4:21 left as the Pirates scored a man-up goal.
In the fourth quarter, Drell scored again off a Perez assist with 9:16 left int he game. Perez racked up his fifth assist of the game with :52.4 seconds left, again finding Sperli to close out the scoring...and the game.
“We take it quarter by quarter and try to win as many quarters as we can,” said Westlake head coach Bill Bongers, whose team ended the regular season at 7-8.
“We started off well. The time of possession was on our side, and we had some good shots and some good looks. The guys were playing smart and playing patient. We won some faceoffs, and that’s the key in maintaining possession.
“A lot of our game is trying to beat our man with a dodge, going one-on-one against some of their midfielders. We weren’t very effective in doing that tonight. They played good defense, because our guys couldn’t get a step.
“If we can’t get a step and get within 15 yards, we’re not going to get many good shots. If we shoot from inside 10-15 yards, it’ll be a good shot. If we’re shooting outside 15 yards, we’re going to make the goalie look pretty good. And he’s already pretty good to begin with,” he added.
The final statistics showed River with a 35-21 edge in shots attempted. Freedman had 11 saves on the night, while Blossey recorded 10.