Friday marked the third consecutive OHSAA Regional Championship for the men of Ohio City. A Regional title is not the goal, but it's one step further to the team's ultimate objective.
And an important step at that.
The Saint Ignatius varsity lacrosse team bested crosstown rival Shaker Heights, 14-8, on a cloudy but warm evening at Revere High School. Looking back on this Regional Final, the game was decided in the first quarter.
The Wildcats sped out of the starting blocks like a team possessed. The Lax Cats tallied four goals in the by the midpoint of the first quarter and held a 7-0 lead by the end of the period. The Red Raiders didn't reach 7 goals until 3:29 of the fourth quarter.
Joey Morford's excellence at the X played a large part in the one-sided affair early on. The junior won 6-of-8 faceoffs, allowing the Wildcats to enjoy a 12-7 margin in possessions. The offense took it from there.
Michael Boehm began the scoring, finding twine just 46 seconds into the contest, off an assist from Jack Moriarity. Boehm then played Santa on the next two goals, gift-wrapping opportunities for Connor Cmiel and Merick Hartley, who don't miss. Boehm didn't stop there, completing his hat trick at 5:24 of the opening stanza.
Playing at X, Mort made the next two goals happen, finding Griff "Biggie" Gerard and Kenneth Klubnik. Both Gerard and Klubnik used dekes to open space and find the back of the net. The junior and sophomore have been a key source of secondary scoring for the Wildcats this year, and are a big reason for the team's success.
The score might have been even more one-sided at quarter's end, but Shaker Heights' goalie turned away 6 shots. The Raiders' netminder continued to do well in the second quarter, stopping 6 more shots.
When Shaker Heights broke the scoreless streak and scored a few times, the Wildcats provided an answer. Merick Hartley carded his second and third goals of the day, while Boehm rang the bell for the fourth time of the game.
Ahead 10-3 with 2 minutes left in the second quarter, the Wildcats committed two penalties. With a two-man advantage, the Red Raiders were presented with a great opportunity to get back into the game. Instead, the Wildcats stood firm.
The Lax Cats caused a turnover and thwarted the opportunity, preventing Shaker Heights from finding the back of the net. Entering the half with a 10-3 Wildcats, the No. 1 seed in Region 2 stood in full control.
The Wildcats' grip on the steering wheel only strengthened in the third quarter. The team had Charlie Minerd to thank for that.
Shaker Heights made a ferocious push in the third to get back into the game. The Red Raiders tallied 11 possessions, 8 shots, and 8 ground balls. The Wildcats' offense threatened on several occasions, but could not beat the Shaker 'tendie. The onus fell on Minerd to deliver, and did he ever. The junior provided 6 clutch saves in 12 minutes, putting forth a remarkable effort to keep Shaker Heights off the board.
"Charlie is really good on his feet, he moves really well in the crease and between the pipes," said assistant coach Jim Smith '94. "He tracks the ball really well. They had a couple really nice shots went in, but he did very well overall. He sees the ball really well, he sees the field well. He does a nice job as the captain out there. He runs the defense. Our defense really respects him. He's done a helluva job this season."
Smith even made a comparison between Minerd and a famous pro.
"The two most important things to have in lacrosse are a great faceoff guy and a great goalie. We have both of them," Smith began. "Chuck is a helluva good athlete and player. He's the heart and soul of the defense. He keeps them up and going. They respect them. He cleared the ball tremendously. He had some stick issues at the beginning of the game, but he worked it out and he cleared the ball tremendously. We had a couple fast breaks because of him. He's like a quarterback out there. He's the Baker Mayfield of the team."
After nine minutes of peppering the net with shots, the Cats broke through with 3:01 left in the quarter. Birthday boy Biggie Gerard supplied a beautiful goal off a pass from Cmiel. Boehm added yet another twiner at 2:08, setting the lead at 12-3 after three.
As the Wildcats eased off the gas pedal, the Red Raiders scored five goals in the closing minutes of an increasingly physical contest, to the delight of the Raiders fans. But the outcome was never in doubt, with Hartley and Mort entering two more goals on the stat sheet, setting the final margin at 14-8.
With the victory, the Wildcats stand at 18-4 entering the State Semifinal. The men of Ohio City will be back at it on Tuesday in the State Semifinal. Dublin Coffman, the No. 1 team in the state according to LaxNumbers.com, will be the foe. Wooster High School will be the venue for the game, with a 6:30 pm start time. Coffman, the Region 1 champ, bested Dublin Jerome, 20-11, to clinch a spot in the final four. The Cats routed Jerome, 20-9, later in the regular season.
The SIBN will have an audio-only feed, as per OHSAA rules.