Story by Jason Smith
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As time ran short in the second half and with the game still deadlocked at 0-0, Grace Bennett streaked toward the Holy Name goal.
Holy Name goalkeeper Paige Reiss, along with a fellow defender, charged out to grab the ball and Bennett went down. That set up a penalty kick for Rocky River senior Abby Elinsky in the 75th minute.
After what seemed to be an eternity of a game delay, Elinsky shot and scored the game's only goal, sending the Pirates to another OHSAA Division II district championship and a spot in the state Sweet 16.
Rocky River, now 18-0-1, will play the Ashland District winner Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Sandusky's Strobel Field.
"I had unbelievable confidence in Abby when she stepped up there to take the penalty kick," Rocky River head coach Patrick Hopkins said. "I knew right then that we were going up 1-0."
"We knew we had to come out here and perform to get to the next game, and we were ready," Elinsky said.
"It's just awesome to come out and win this on our home field, like we did last year," Bennett said. "What an exciting game to have at home. We haven't had that many close games this year, so it was just an exciting one to win."
The penalty kick gave the unbeaten Pirates only their eighth scoring opportunity of the second half, and only their 11th overall in a game that featured heavy snow squalls at times.
"We weren't really focused on the weather that much," Bennett said. "We know that they packed it in on us in their defensive end, so it was harder to work through and get some shots. But we found a way."
"I think we pulled it together better in the second half," Elinsky said. "We kind of relaxed and controlled the ball more."
The penalty kick chance came as no surprise, as the Green Wave defense harassed the Pirates the entire game in committing 16 fouls.
"Honestly, they were fouling me a lot the whole game," Bennett said. "I was getting pushed, and finally the referee called it in the box.
"I grabbed Abby, and told her to relax. You got it. She said, 'I know.'"
Elinsky had a few minutes to think of where she wanted to put the shot, due to the referee' delay in the game.
"I was just thinking about the ball going into the back of the net," she said. "I just knew that once this shot was in, we were in the regionals.
"I just relaxed and took my time, and I felt it was going to go where I wanted it to go," she added.
This was one of the most evenly-matched games for Rocky River this year, as it usually defeated its opponent handily.
"At halftime, I told the girls that it's going to happen. We need to calm down and relax, and attack their goal. It's going to happen," Hopkins said.
"We haven't been shut out all year, and I pointed that out to them. We've scored lots of goals. We just needed to be patient, wait for our opportunities, and we did," he said.
Rocky River came into the game as the top-ranked squad in the state, but Holy Name was right behind them, ranked at No. 5.
"We knew coming in that they are a great team, with a lot of great players," Hopkins added. "We had to make sure that we shut them down.
"I think my defense did a great job containing them all day. They didn't get a lot of great opportunities," he said.
The Green Wave did have a key scoring opportunity in the first half. The Pirates were called for a hand ball in their box, setting up a penalty kick for Holy Name captain Caroline Dreher. But Rocky River senior goalkeeper Sara Connelly went to the correct side and blocked the shot.
"She took a penalty kick against me last year, so I remembered that and had a gut feeling that it was going to go that direction," Connelly said. "If you don't choose, you're probably not going to save it.
"So I just went right, and it worked out in my favor," she said.
Connelly finished the game with eight saves, to Reiss' seven. The Rocky River shut out also marked Connelly's 13th of the year, tying her for the school's all-time season record, and putting her two behind the state record of 15.
"The record was set by Kim Lietch, the previous goalie, so that was a big thing for me," Connelly explained. "It's been on my mind all season, so I definitely wanted to accomplish that."
The loss ended the Green Wave's season at 11-4-2.
The Pirates will now travel to Sandusky to play the winner of the game between Ontario and Clear Fork. Another win would put the Pirates in the regional championship game at Ashland High School next Saturday.
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