The Rocky River boys varsity soccer team clicked on all cylinders Wednesday night.
The Pirates scored early and often, survived a late Bay rally and beat the Rockets, 4-2, to win the West Shore Conference championship at Rocky River Stadium.
"In every game that we've played this year, I've tried to emphasize how important it is to get an early goal," said Rocky River head coach Kevin Zerbey, whose team moved to 13-1-1 overall and finished the WSC season a perfect 7-0.
"It helps us out psychologically and it messes with the other team a bit," Zerbey continued. "I didn't think we would score as fast as we did on these guys. It's Bay, you know?"
Rocky River's senior forward, Spencer Klodnick, scored the opening goal on a redirect of a throw-in that was defended back to the Bay goalkeeper just two and a half minutes into the game.
"That first goal happened because Spencer never gave up on it," Zerbey said. "That ball was thrown in and flicked, and he could have easily said 'It's going to the goalie and I'm not going for it. But he knifed in there, got a toe on it and put it in the goal.
"That goal was so important, because it set a tone of things were going to go," Zerbey said.
Bay head coach Bobby Dougherty made frequent substitutions to keep fresh legs on the pitch at all times, but the Pirates held fast and did not allow the Rockets many offensive opportunities.
"Every time he (Dougherty) was subbing in new guys, we had to deal with the energy that they were bringing. My guys handled it magnificently," Zerbey explained.
"I'd love to say that I taught them how to deal with all of the pressure, but I didn't. It was all them, and it was fantastic to watch."
The Pirates did not let off the gas in the second half. With 25:26 left in the game, Rocky River sophomore Jacob Wischmeier kicked in a goal off of a Trent Newby throw-in.
Three minutes later, the Rockets were called for a hand ball in their own penalty box, setting up a penalty kick which was taken by Rockets junior captain Sutton Klodnick.
"I went up there, and I usually go right-side. But I know the Bay keeper and I kind of thought he knew where I was going," Klodnick said. "He went that way, so I kicked it to the left and it went right in. It was a nice shot, and I knew it.
"This was the biggest game in my life so far," he added. "It was for the West Shore Conference championship, against our rivals at home. We almost shut them out, except for the end."
Now trailing 4-0 in the game, the Rockets started to mount a comeback. The Bay forwards started to shoot at will, putting 11 balls on net in the second half and scoring two goals late in the game.
The first Bay goal was by junior forward Jacob Sooy off an assist by Mark Comienski with 4:57 left in the game. Less than a minute later, senior Brandon Myers found the back of the net to make the final score 4-2.
"Hats off, River kicked our butts," said Dougherty, whose team lost for the first time this season and fell to 9-1-5 overall, 6-1 in the WSC. "They outplayed us tonight. Collectively, as a group, on the field there was never a point where we were getting better.
"We didn't expect it to happen. Coming off of training over the past few days, we played exceptionally well. We just didn't have it tonight, and River just outplayed us from the beginning to the end.
"They did a great job, and they deserved to win tonight. Hopefully, if things go well, we'll see each other in a couple of weeks, and that's the only focus from this day forward," he added.
Bay will play against Westlake on Saturday for the Dover Cup before starting postseason play.
"There will be no change in our game plan going forward," Dougherty said. "Tonight was just one of those nights where nothing worked, no matter who we threw out there.
"It was nice that the boys put in the effort all the way to the end of the game. We got two, and at least it gets the monkey off their backs, that they can do this. We're all right, and it's nothing to get too freaked out about," he said.
Zerbey said he wasn't worried about the late Bay scores going forward. He was just happy to be the conference champions.
"I'm not going to lie. I would have preferred the shutout," said Zervbey, whose team has recorded a school-record 11 shutouts so far this season. "But a win is a win. A shutout would have been sweet, but we know we might see them again for the district over at their place.
"That game would be every bit as tough as this game was, and maybe even more so," he concluded.
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