By Mr. Eddie Dwyer, Copyright Credit November 2016
The two-time defending and record seven-time State Champion Soccer Cats are headed to another Division I State Semifinal after turning away Massillon Jackson, 2-0, in Saturday's Regional Championship match at Nordonia High School's Bolantz Stadium.
Senior All-American forward Steve Milhoan is now Saint Ignatius' all-time leader in goals scored with 77, as Steve sent home the record setter with 14:20 remaining in the second half, a shot that gave the state's and nation's top-ranked team a little cushion. Steve's 77th scoreboard lighter surpassed the mark of 76 set by Pablo Aycinena (1998-2001).
The Soccer Cats, 19-0-2 and carrying an unbeaten streak of 57 consecutive matches, will face the Battling Bees of Medina on Wednesday at 7 PM in a State Semifinal match that as of Saturday evening was listed by the OHSAA as being at a site to be announced.
That said, Saint Ignatius' nationally acclaimed Head Coach Mike McLaughlin '85 emphasized that the final four matchup with Medina could be played on the natural grass home surface of the Strongsville Mustangs.
From Macedonia, Ohio - Saint Ignatius' reigning Ohio Player of the Year Steve Milhoan, just minutes after he and his teammates secured another OHSAA Regional Championship Trophy, talked about the effort the Massillon Jackson Polar Bears brought to South Bedford Road at high noon on a perfect Autumn day in Summit County.
"They were bringing the energy and just trying to make it very hectic for us," Steve said. "And they did, really, the score was 0-0 at the half.
"They ran hard," Steve continued in reference to Jackson. "But I told my boys again, we weathered the storm and we'll come out for the second half and not let up the pressure. We've seen this before throughout the season, you can't panic, you can't rush. It will come."
What came less than a minute into the second half was another "own goal" for the Wildcats off a cross by ever-present junior defense Matthew Trickett that was accidently headed into the left corner of the net by a Jackson player.
As is the long-standing tradition in Saint Ignatius Soccer, all own goals are awarded to the 'Cats' outstanding Junior Varsity Coach Mr. Jim Brennan '85.
How about Trickett is the ticket. After handling all of the kicking chores, sending home five extra points and making a jarring tackle on special teams during Saint Ignatius' 35-0 Region 1 Quarterfinal Football Playoff victory versus Jackson on Friday night, Trickett was on the soccer pitch less than 24 hours later ready to face another version of the Polar Bears.
The spirited play by both programs and some hustle and savvy by Wildcats veteran goalkeeper Lodge Dils kept it a 1-0 game until Milhoan touched 77 Sunset Strip, aka the Jackson net.
"Gotsky picked his head up and played a beautiful ball right to my feet," said Steve of the assist mainstay senior forward Alex Gotsky provided on the record- setting goal. "I was one-on-one with the keeper, kept sliding down and got it a touch behind him. I slotted it home, but all the props to Gotsky, it was a beautiful pass."
Jackson, who is no stranger to Regional Soccer matchups with the Wildcats, closed another successful season at 12-5-3.
FROM COACH MCLAUGHLIN, WHO SOCCER CATS ARE SEEKING WHAT WOULD BE AN OHSAA RECORD THREE CONSECUTIVE BOYS STATE SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIPS.
"I told them just to take a deep breath when they get the ball and relax a little bit," said the man who has also guided his program to three National Championships - 2005, 2010 and 2015.
"This game is so fast and high pressured it's hard for any kid at this age to handle the ball. The defense is running at you a million miles an hour. It's hard to deal with.
"I told the kids, you're good enough to deal with it. Try to get the ball down and try to find each other. The more we just kick it, the more it becomes a 50-50 ball and anything can happen. Our strength is staying connected with each other and when we don't play to that strength it just becomes a back and forth battle. And anybody can win back and forth battles.
"They're good and they're always prepared for us," Coach McLaughlin continued in reference to the Polar Bears. "As a coach, you're always thinking about what we could have done better. But it's the kids who sorted it out, despite the speed of the game."