Story by Ryan Kaczmarski
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The Bay boys soccer team has finally got the monkey off its back.
The Rockets overcame the ghosts of the past two seasons and defeated Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, 3-1, Wednesday night to move on to play in the OHSAA Division II state championship game.
For the third year in a row, the Rockets found themselves at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School playing in the state semifinals. As the visiting team, the Rockets fell to CVCA in 2012, 3-0, and last year Bay lost to Revere High School, 4-3.
But this year is different.
After going into halftime tied 1-1, Bay came out with a constant attack and forced CVCA to make mistakes, including a hand ball about 25 yards in front of its own goal. Rockets senior defender Mark Comienski set up and shot the ball right through CVCA goalkeeper Robert Stanley's hands for the go-ahead score at the 55 minute mark in the game.
"The momentum just shifted," Comienski said about his game-winner. "We felt just so much better coming out of halftime. The pressure was on and we had 100 percent focus.
"We just felt that we could win it," he said.
Knowing they had the lead with time running out in the second half of the game, the Rockets were able to relax and play their style of soccer for the remainder of the game.
"The start of the second half was frantic, kicking the ball up the field and out of bounds," Comienski explained. "After the second goal, we were able to relax and play the ball around.
"Then Daniel got his goal."
Bay senior Daniel Linhart drove the dagger into the hearts of the CVCA players when he scored the Rockets' third goal and sent the Bay Village crowd into a frenzy.
"This feels so great," Linhart said. "It feels a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Now we can relax and go play a game.
"My goal let us relax and play our game," he said. "We came into the game with so much energy, and somehow we knew we were going to come out with the win."
Wednesday's victory sends the Rockets to the state championship game for the first time in five years. Head coach Bobby Dougherty felt his team was destined to play in Columbus this year, if only in jest.
"I've been teasing all along that the only reason we're going is so my daughter can go to the American Girl doll store," he joked. "It just opened, that's why we didn't win in the past. It's all because of her.
"I'm thrilled, as well as you all can imagine," Dougherty stated. "We were gracious in defeat, and gracious in victory.
"With the way CVCA beat us two years ago, it's nice to get that monkey off of our back and get another chance. You just never know if you're going to get another chance," he said.
Bay has been to the state championship game four times in the school's history. The Rockets won the championship in 1991 and 1993, and were the state runners-up in 2005 and 2009.
Bay started the scoring in the third minute of the game. The goal came off of a Matt Comienski free kick that Scott Durham was able to pop over the top of the outreached hands of the CVCA keeper to put the Rockets up, 1-0.
"That first goal, again like I've said before, lucky is good," Dougherty stated. "But we make our own luck.
"A little flick gets us one. But they come back and tie it, and then the boys put it together and pull away," he said.
CVCA tied the game in the 30th minute, off of a corner kick that sophomore Braden Petno got past Bay goalkeeper Colin Southerington. It was the first goal Southerington has given up this whole postseason.
"I really think that both teams were so nervous in the beginning of the game, that there wasn't really good soccer being played," Dougherty explained. "There was a lot of ping-pong out there.
"In the second half, we started to settle down a little bit and control the ball. Daniel found himself a little free on that third goal, the back-breaker," he added.
The Rockets had to overcome the loss of senior captain Alec White, who was injured in the regional title game against Celina.
"It's just brutal, and it breaks your heart," Dougherty said of White's injury.
"He said to the boys before the game, 'I have no regrets. Don't play with any regrets tonight. We've lost on this field the last two years in a row. This is our time, so let's get it done.'
"All the right things were said, so I'm really proud of him."
Bay, now 19-2-1, will go up against Columbus St. Francis DeSales (17-4-1), which beat Columbus Bishop Watterson, 1-0, Wednesday night. The state title match will be played Saturday at Columbus Crew Stadium and is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this match