Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
After turning away a Bay attack, the Rocky River Pirates went on a counter and quickly moved the ball up field.
As the sixth minute ticked off the Bay Memorial Stadium scoreboard, the ball found its way to Abby Elinsky. The Rocky River forward took the ball to the end line, made a quick move past a Rocket defender and ripped a line-drive crossing shot into the right side of the net.
With a 1-0 lead, the Pirates were well on their way. The visitors got another Elinsky goal for a 2-0 halftime lead, then finished off the game with a 3-goal outburst in the second half for a 5-0 win over Bay that clinched the West Shore Conference girls soccer championship.
Rocky River, now 14-0-1, put the capper on an undefeated WSC campaign by putting consistent offensive pressure on Bay's vaunted defense. In the first half alone, Rocky River had a 10-3 advantage in shots taken. The Rockets made a strong push to start the second half, but a rebound goal by McKenna Klodnick in the 58th minute all but put the game away for the nationally-ranked Pirates.
"We knew we had to get it done right away and start off on the right foot," said Elinsky of her first goal. "So to get that first goal early was important because we knew how tough their defense was. I was definitely going for the shot on that play.
"It feels good. We're working hard, but we're still just taking it one game at a time. This is a good win, but we're ready for the games to come and the challenges that come with them," she added.
Rocky River head coach Patrick Hopkins knew at the time just how big Elinsky's first goal was to his team's chances.
"It was huge," said Hopkins of Elinsky's first goal. "She amazes me. She absolutely amazes me, the fact that she was able to take that ball, turn it the way she did and beat that defender. Plus, there's the location of that shot and the tough angle she had. It was beautiful.
"When I saw her make that move and winding up, I thought 'oh my God, we're going to see something special.' And we did," he added.
The Pirate senior struck again with 13:23 left in the first half. Klodnick had a throw-in from about 10 yards out on the east sideline and threw a perfect strike to Elinsky, who went up and headed the ball past Bay goalie Ashley Grisnik for a 2-0 Pirate lead.
"I was concerned with our throw-ins because I understand Bay spent a lot of time working on that in their practices," Hopkins said. "But we're not going to change anything. We're going to go out and play our game. We're not going to try to counter what they're doing.
"We went out like we always do. McKenna made a great throw, and Abby was in the right place and flicked it in," he said.
Rocky River constantly put pressure on the home team with numerous throw-ins and a total of eight corners on the night. Bay head coach Jack Griffiths said it reminded him of the Rockets' final game of the 2012 season.
"It was almost like our district game with Holy Name last year," said Griffiths, whose team fell to 10-2-4 overall. "We came out strong the first five, six minutes. I'm not saying we controlled the ball, but we had two or three great opportunities.
"If one or two of those go in, it's a whole different game. More power to their goalkeeper and their defense, because they made the saves. Then they got that counter."
Griffiths also knew that his team had to limit River's opportunities with Klodnick's throw-ins and Jillian Krebs' corner kicks.
"As we came into this game, I said there were two things we couldn't do. We couldn't leave Elinsky and Grace Bennett alone, and we couldn't give them throw-ins and corner kicks. Elinsky got two goals and two assists, then they scored one goal on a corner and another on a throw-in. And another corner set up another goal for them. So it was the things we knew about coming in, we just couldn't stop them.
"Because they're so fast and so physical, we had a hard time. Our girls were trying to clear the ball, but they couldn't. The next thing you know, they have a throw in or a corner kick," he added.
Bennett got into the act later in the second half. Late in the 64th minute, she took a pass from Elinsky on the right side and his a crossing shot into the left side of the netting for a 4-0 River lead. Then with 12:56 remaining, she found herself in a one-on-one situation and won it with a 15-footer from the right side.
"One thing that really came out tonight was our girls' fitness," Hopkins said. "Our girls are fit, and they can work.
"When Bay came out with that big charge in the second half, I was saying "OK, it's 2-0, Bay's on a charge, just relax.' In my opinion, Bay couldn't keep up that pace.
"They hung on to it a lot longer than I anticipated, but about 20 minutes into the half is where you saw it kind of sway. So our fitness is where it needs to be right now."
And while his team has bigger goals in mind in the upcoming OHSAA Division II Tournament, Hopkins said winning the WSC was a good stepping stone.
"I don't put a lot of emphasis on it, but it is really nice. It's a lot of fun to win," Hopkins said. "We won something. That's exciting for these girls. Was it one of our main goals? No, but it was something that will help propel us to our next step."
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