Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The road to the final West Shore Conference boys soccer championship now officially runs through Avon.
The still-unbeaten Eagles, their offense controlling the ball for most of the second half, got the go-ahead goal from senior midfielder Will Sharer with 21:40 left in the match. The result was a hard-fought 3-1 win over state-ranked Bay Wednesday night at Avon's Joe Firment Stadium.
With the win, Avon moved to 10-0-1 on the season and took sole possession of first place in the WSC with a 4-0-1 mark. The Eagles, who received votes in this week's Division I OSSCA Poll, have Midview and Vermilion remaining on their conference schedule.
Bay, the state's No. 2 team in Division II, fell to 9-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the WSC.
"I think we did a good job of keeping the ball in their half," said Avon head coach Chris Dore, whose team dominated possession in the second half after a 1-1 tie in the first 40 minutes.
"We did a good job of putting pressure on them up front," Dore said. "We did a good job of winning ball in the midfield and also maintaining possession. What we try to do is have our offense be our best defense.
"I think we had a good example of that tonight, along with having a sturdy back line," he said.
Bay went after the Eagles hard on the opening kickoff, and had a shot stopped in the third minute by Avon's freshman keeper Dylan Morris. But as the match went on, the Eagles began controlling the ball and making advances of their own into the Rockets' third.
In the 18th minute, senior Tony Telidis crossed the ball to his right and into the box. It bounced around for a moment, then went to the left of Bay keeper Colin Southerington for a 1-0 Avon lead. Sharer, who was waiting on the right side with fellow senior Christian Giraldo,was credited with the goal and described what he saw.
"Tony crossed the ball in, and Christian was waiting back post," Sharer said.
"We couldn't get a foot on it, and it bounced around. I think it bounced off of one of their guys and into the net. We got a little bit lucky, but we'll take it. We knew even if we scored first, we were going to have to keep playing hard.
"The pressure was still on, but it was nice to score first and make them chase the game," he said.
"It happened quickly," Dore said of his team's first goal.
"We've scored goals like this before this year. We get the ball wide and get the ball to a player that's isolated one-on-one, and Tony had a good cross on the ground. A lot of times people think crosses should be in the air, but we're not very big in the air. We're not a very big team, especially against these guys.
"We wanted to play balls on the ground, and he slid one across and we had two guys there, and we were able to punch it in," he said.
Bay was able to knot the score before halftime, taking advantage of an Avon turnover an eventually scoring with 2:54 left in the half. Senior Alec White threw the ball in from about 25 yards out, then junior forward Ryan Bracken zipped the ball past Morris off the assist from senior Dan Linhart.
"They have a young keeper, so we were trying to rattle his cage a little bit," said Bay head coach Bob Dougherty said of his team's aggressive play off the opening kickoff.
"We really didn't put him under much pressure as we wanted, but he did a good job tonight. For the most part, we've got to do a little bit better job of hanging on to it. The first 10 minutes of the second half, we couldn't get the ball out of our own end.
"We were stuck in there, and they did a nice job of pressuring," he said.
Dougherty's Rockets had few scoring opportunities the rest of the way as the Eagles earned four corner kicks in the first 14 minutes of the half. The go-ahead goal came in the 59th minute as Sharer zipped the ball past Southerington off a deflected cross.
"It was almost created out of nothing," Dore said.
"He back-heeled the ball, and I think he was trying to cross the ball and it came back to him. He was very alert right there,"Dore said. "That sums up our determination in the game, of being relentless and never stopping.
"That goal was a very good example of the way our kids approach this game," he said.
"I just squeaked it by the goalie's foot," Sharer said. "That was a big goal, an important goal to get us the lead back. After we scored that goal, we had a lot of momentum.
"We were just clicking after that," he said.
Avon got the clincher with 1:14 left when senior Michael Smigel scored off a header on a crossing pass from Girlado. Dore felt his team continued to improve its level of play as the match went on despite the challenge posed by a bigger Bay squad.
"This first five to 10 minutes of any game probably doesn't look like the last seven," Dore said. "When both teams are fresh and giving it everything they've got to try and set the tone.
"They're a very strong team. They're physical, they're very athletic and they're a good team. I felt like we did a pretty decent job of standing that first push. Then when the game settled down, I felt some of our quality in terms of our style of play started to show. I was more happy with our second half than I was with our first.
"It was an example of other games we've played this year, where maybe things weren't going perfect for us in the first half. We liked the way we were playing, we just needed to step up. Everybody needed to raise their level of play up a little bit and not get frustrated," he said.
On the other side, Dougherty acknowledged his team's lack of offensive opportunities.
"We were locked in for moments offensively, but that was about it," Dougherty said .
"We hard three or four restarts in a row there late in the first half, but we had a lot of trouble with pressure from behind," Dougherty said. "We were a little bit soft in trying to get a hold of the ball when we played balls in. It's something we've been working hard on.
"We've got some players that do it very well, and others who kind of get knocked off the ball. We've got to get that mentality that we're going to be tougher on the ball when it's played in," he said.
Bay will get a chance to do just that this Saturday night as the Rockets host Avon Lake at 7 p.m. Also that night, Avon will host Normandy in a 7 p.m. start.
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Click on the cameras below for Larry's photos and video highlights from this match: