Story by John Blake
Photos by Bobby Jones
Almost three weeks ago, the Rocky River boys soccer team defeated Bay to earn the West Shore Conference championship.
This time, there was arguably something more important on the line.
The host Rockets, meeting Rocky River for the second time in 17 days, weren't about to let another opportunity slip away. Bay had revenge on its mind and followed through with a 2-0 win over the Pirates Saturday night in the Division II district finals at Bay Memorial Stadium.
Bay, now 13-1-5, jumped on Rocky River for two goals in the first half, both in the final five minutes, and stymied the opposition the rest of the way with the help of junior goalie Colin Southerington. The Rockets advanced to Wednesday night's regional semifinals against Norwalk at Perkins High School.
Bay head coach Bobby Dougherty said the win is a little "bittersweet" considering his friendship with Rocky River head coach Kevin Zerbey. He said the Rockets may have lost the conference championship to Rocky River, but they'll gladly take a district title in exchange.
"I've coached against Kevin for years now and we're very good friends. It's hard," Dougherty said. "The boys played tremendously well tonight and they were ready.
"I was nervous all day, I'm not gonna lie. It's a lot of pride on both of our ends," he said. "Initially when you're not friends with anybody, it's nice just to win and you don't really care. It's hard on both ends. I'm thrilled for our guys, they worked their tails off."
Beating the same team the caliber of Bay twice in a month is a tall task. That was the challenge facing Rocky River, which beat the Rockets, 4-2, on Oct. 9.
Zerbey's squad came out aggressive and the teams battled each other tough until the Rockets broke through with two goals in the final 4:38.
"My guys knew what to do and they knew how to play," said Zerbey, whose team closed out one of its best seasons ever at 15-2-1. "But you give up two goals like those and you can't help but to start having some doubts in your head.
"Coming out of halftime, we felt confident that we could get back in the game," he said. "We just needed a break to get a goal. We couldn't get any possessions really in either half to get down there and have some meaningful attacks."
The Pirates were gift-wrapped one critical chance to cut the deficit in half and steal the momentum in the second half. With 16:10 left in the match, a penalty kick was awarded to Sutton Klodnick, who blasted a shot to his left.
Unfortunately for Klodnick, Southerington dove in the same direction. The junior rejected the ball and any hopes of a Rocky River comeback.
"That's just wrong what he did," said Dougherty. "All of our keepers know the rules. The rule is you have to make one freakishly good save - a save that nobody expects you to make but you have to come up with one of them.
"He had three tonight. That was the difference in the game. He was phenomenal. You can't expect that from anybody, and he did that tonight."
After Southerington swatted away the shot and the ball flew out of bounds, the entire Bay team on ran to the goalie in jubilation, all the while Klodnick displayed frustration amidst the missed opportunity.
"I usually always go right. It just happened so fast and it felt amazing after that," said Southerington.
"We knew they were going to come out firing, they had all the energy. They beat us last time, they really wanted to win. We had to stay sharp and play our game," he said.
Bay's first goal came at the 4:38 mark when junior Alec White, who is also the kicker on the football team, sent a line drive about 30 yards through the air to the upper left corner of the net.
"He came down, and when everybody backed away from him you knew it was going to be trouble because the ball was on his right foot," Dougherty said.
"He had a good last touch, and he had everything in the world behind it. He's probably the best athlete we have in the school in his grade," he said.
Less than three minutes later, senior Matt Koch used his head nicely to knock in the Rockets' second and final goal of the night. The Pirates, who had only trailed once all season, certainly had some work to do in the second half.
The penalty kick seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
"Dougherty had been switching goalies different halves throughout the season," said Zerbey. "That guy, the way he played tonight, it's hard to see how he wasn't the starter the whole year.
"He dominated I think from start to finish with his distribution of his punts and free kicks and everything. That save, that was a hell of a save," he said.
The Bay coach said it helped to get the early lead and put the pressure on the Pirates.
"River's going to come at us," Dougherty said. "They're so athletic, they're so strong. They were convinced they were going to win this thing.
"I'm trying to convince our guys that we've got the wind in the second half, we can keep it simple. Knock it in their end and let's let them make mistakes," he added.
(You can follow John Blake on Twitter @johnblake02. Follow our website too @BeAFanatic.)