While a consistent rain provided spooky weather conditions at Brunswick High School, the Saint Ignatius varsity soccer team treated fans to a hard-earned 4-0 win on Wednesday evening at Brunswick AutoMart Stadium.
The Wildcats advance to the Regional Final with the Halloween victory. A hardy crew supported the Soccer Cats during a drenching evening in Brunswick, as the team advanced to 17-1-2 on the season.
Following the team's seventh shutout win of the year, the Wildcats now have a date with Sylvania Northview on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Sandusky Perkins High School, the sixth straight Regional Final appearance for the Cats.
"I am enjoying the way we're playing," said Head Soccer Coach Mike McLaughlin '85. "We didn't play this way a month ago, we didn't play this way two months ago. As the season goes, coaches get an idea of what we're capable of. That's why we play these teams all over the country. Then, we put these ideas to the players, 'Let's do this. This will give us the best chance to be successful.' It's nice in a game of this magnitude to do the things we want to do, and create chances."
The game started out well for the Wildcats. The men of Ohio City pressured Avon, missing narrowly high and wide on a pair of promising chances. The Eagles also had a shot miss the net.
Ten minutes into the first half, the Wildcats broke through. Kory Nekoloff found space in the box off a perfect pass from a teammate. The senior did not miss his shot in the 1-on-1 opportunity vs. the keeper, burying the chance in the bottom left corner of the net.
Nekoloff nearly got another goal, but the ball sailed just high on him. The miss didn't matter, however, as the Wildcats found twine just eight minutes after the first tally.
Henry Curtis slotted a wonderful pass to an open Matthew McLaughlin on the far side. McLaughlin knew what to do, placing the ball in the back of the net for his team-best 14th goal of the year for the Wildcats.
Following the Wildcats' insurance goal, the Eagles started to improve their marking. The adjustment limited the Wildcats' shots, but Saint Ignatius still controlled the majority of the possession.
Even still, the Eagles did manage some chances. Peter Van Euwen handled them calmly in net, deflecting a couple promising shots by the Eagles.
The rain started to increase in intensity in the final minutes of the first half. The Wildcats' offense showed no signs of slowing, continuing to push forward. Bryce Horton fired a rocket of a shot just wide right of the net with 2:30 left in the half, nearly increasing the lead to three goals. Despite the close misses, the contest stood at 2-0 Wildcats entering the break.
The rain continued to pour down at the start of the second half. The Soccer Cats paid no mind to the weather and kept moving forward. A pass off a corner kick found the foot of Kyle Folds, and the junior slotted it at the net from close in. But the Avon keeper stopped the shot, sending the ball ping-ponging around the box. Unfortunately for the Cats, the ball bounced away harmlessly.
The Wildcats nearly scored again six minutes into the second. Kyle Healy fired a shot off the crossbar, snatched his own rebound, and then sent a second shot just barely wide right.
Avon tabbed a dangerous shot of its own in the 54th minute. The Eagles fired a shot from the fringe of the box right at Van Euwen. The junior keeper did not panic, catching the ball and ending the threat. In response, the Wildcats pushed forward on offense. Nekoloff just barely missed on a shot, and an offsides call negated a near Saint Ignatius goal.
As the midway point of the second half passed, the Wildcats did not relent on offense. Henry Curtis slotted a couple shots on net, which were handled by the Avon keeper. Following the pair of misses, Curtis converted with 14 minutes remaining in the contest. The senior found space in the middle and blasted the ball top-shelf into the back of the net, advancing the lead to 3-0 Wildcats.
"I got the ball down the wing, Kory got outside of me, and opened up space for me, and I just hit it," Curtis said.
The Wildcats finished out the remainder of the game with strong play on both sides. Matthew McLaughlin helped to push Avon on defense, and Van Euwen stayed perfect in net. In the final minute, junior Ryan Notarianni added a goal, his first of the season, to cap off a victorious night for the Wildcats.
"We have multiple people scoring goals. That's great," McLaughlin said. "To have four people score four different goals is tremendous. At this stage, teams focus one guy or two guys. It's a great thing that we have 7-8 guys who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net."
During the team huddle after the match, Coach McLaughlin praised his squad after the match for playing a hard-nosed brand of soccer, outworking the opponents and wearing them down.
"We can play, but the things that really change the games are 50-50 balls, and just fighting and winning them," McLaughlin said. "When you do that repeatedly, it beats a team down. It makes a team struggle to get momentum. I thought we had it in the first 20 minutes. Then, things started to open up, credit to them. That's when we have to be mature and manage the game, and start to put our foot on things."
With the win in hand, the Wildcats will regroup and prepare for Sylvania Northview.
The Soccer Cats last played Northview, who share the Wildcats mascot, in the 2017 opener. Saint Ignatius prevailed, 3-2.
"We have to see what Northview is about. I know they're going to be a hard-working, battling team," said McLaughlin. "They're a team with a lot of setpiece opportunities, so we'll have to shut those down. We'll have to come out and dictate. We have to be the boss. If we do that, we'll have a chance."
The Soccer Cats will enter Saturday's contest riding high.
"It gives us a lot of momentum going into the next round," Curtis said. "We had a great team win today. The offense is really clicking, the defense played great with the shutout. We're excited to be moving onto the next round."