OHIO CITY, Oh - On October 11, the Wildcats routed the Mentor Cardinals by a score of 10-1. The much-needed blowout gave the Cats a regained sense of confidence, as the nine-goal margin of victory would be their largest of the year.
The avalanche of Wildcat goals began to tumble in the match’s early stages. In just the sixth minute of the game, Junior Rafa de la Barrera scored after David Salukombo played the ball from the goal line to the top of the six-yard box, slotting away the goal with a left-footed strike to the near post.
No more than five minutes later, in the 11th minute, senior captain Nick Mikulec played a left-footed, in-swinging corner kick to the center of the six-yard box. The ball skimmed off of several players in the box. However, the hard-struck ball continued on its trajectory and into the back netting of the goal.
In the 19th minute, sophomore David Salukombo would find his first goal of the season, as Bryce Ince-Lovelace’s shot was blocked by the goalkeeper but found itself at Salukombo’s feet. Just a step outside the penalty box, he struck the ball with his dominant left foot and into the right side netting of the Wasmer Field goal.
The Cats would tally another triad of goals in the 26th, 34th and 37th minutes by the likes of Marty McLaughlin, Zalan Onodi and Evan Tercek, doubling the lead to 6-0 with mere minutes until half.
However, the Saint Ignatius side wasn’t content yet, as they’d notch one more prior to the halftime whistle, when Zalan Onodi would be fouled hard in the penalty box, earning the Cats a penalty kick. Senior Will Murphy would be selected for the 12-yard task and confidently stepped up to the spot and netted his first varsity goal, pushing the halftime lead to a monstrous 7-0.
While one might expect a team with a seven-goal lead to come out of the half fulfilled, the Cats were restless to score another. Just one minute into the second half, Mikulec would play a corner kick right to the head of the sophomore Dom Ruggiero. The Cats’ leading goalscorer then did what he does best, poaching the ball into the back of the net for his seventh header goal of the year.
The Mikulec corner kicks would keep raining down into the exhausted Cardinal backline and in the 58th minute, they’d strike again. Another impeccable Mikulec corner would sail right to the head of sophomore Ince-Lovelace, who put the header away seemingly with ease.
The Cats would then show the first sign of erring all night with seven minutes remaining in the match, as a throw-in would find Mentor senior Cody Rastall clear on the net. He’d chip the ball over the Wildcat keeper for a consolation goal.
Never deterred, the Wildcats would be determined to finish the game with their own goal and would do so in the waning minutes of the game. Jacob Race would play the ball out wide off of a corner kick, where he’d serve the ball into the back post in the six-yard box, where Will Fraser would head the ball into the back right netting of the goal. The junior’s first varsity goal would cap off the Wildcats’ 10-1 victory.
On October 14, the Wildcats took on the Dublin Jerome Celtics at home in their final regular season spar of the 2023 season. Although the match featured moments of triumph for the Wildcats, they’d ultimately end up drawing 2-2 heartbreakingly.
The Cats emerged in their protective 4-3-3 formation, weary of the sliding ball on the wet, rainy turf. It would be Justis Olorunto, Nick Mikulec, Oliver Polatz, and James Bauman operating the back line, Marty McLaughlin, Rafa de la Barrera and Dom Ruggiero in the midfield, and Sam Trivisonno, David Salukombo, and Nick Trivisonno on forward duty.
Both teams struggled to find offensive traction throughout the first half through the gray, rainy conditions. The Wildcats would command a sizable advantage of the possession, although they worked in the final third of the field. Nevertheless, the teams headed to half deadlocked at 0.
With the momentum yet to be decided, the Celtics would find an opportunity to seize the lead just 10 minutes into the new half. Being awarded a free kick just outside of the Wildcat penalty box in the left corner of the field, Dublin Jerome would make the most of it, scoring after an apparent deflection off an attacker’s wrist, giving the Celtics the lead.
The following 20 minutes of soccer would be filled with chances for the Wildcats to equalize. However, they continued to need more capitalization of these opportunities. The game-tying knock would finally come in the 76th minute, as Justis Olorunto would rise above the Mentor defenders to head in Marty McLaughlin’s corner kick.
The equalizer wasn’t enough for the scrappy Wildcats, as they’d seek a score to put them ahead. They’d find what they were looking for with four and a half minutes remaining in the second half, as Salukombo would work the left side of the pitch, his finesse making Celtic defender after Celtic defender look silly before crossing the ball to the head of Sam Trivisonno, who’d deflect the ball to the far post netting, giving the Wildcats their first lead in the late stages of the match.
Trivisonno’s heroics wouldn’t prove enough to ensure a victory, as in the 77th minute, Jerome would find an equalizer. After the Celtics were awarded a free kick in the Wildcat half of the field, the defense would be caught off guard trying to align their wall. Jerome would play the set piece quickly, crossing the ball to the back post of the box, where senior Adam Kirkbride would tap the ball into the open right side of the net to tie the game up yet again.
With the 2-2 draw, the Wildcats would fall to a 10-3-3 regular season. They look ahead to the beginning of the OHSAA Playoffs, where they will face John Marshall on Wasmer Field this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in the Sectional Final.