On the first day game of the Saint Ignatius soccer team's playoff run, the Wildcats' offense shined brightly.
In a game between the Wildcats of Saint Ignatius and the Wildcats of Sylvania Northview, the Clevelanders earned a decisive 6-0 victory to claim the Regional Championship.
With the win, Saint Ignatius has now won 13 Regional Championships in program history. The Wildcats will move forward into the State Semifinal on Wednesday. The Soccer Cats will play Medina at 7 p.m. at North Ridgeville High School.
The dangerous Saint Ignatius offense flexed its muscles from the opening whistle. The fireworks began early and only stopped with the referee's whistle at the end of the first half.
In the third minute, Theo Kudlo lofted a beautiful through ball to the awaiting boot of Henry Curtis. The senior charged down the far side of the field and found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Curtis did not miss on his opportunity, firing the ball low right side for an early lead.
Saint Ignatius kept pushing on offense, with Kory Nekoloff and Bryce Horton notching close chances off of nice through balls. Sylvania Northview also had a couple of nice chances, one off a free kick and another off a smart offensive play.
The men of Ohio City tallied the next goal. Henry Curtis centered a beautiful pass right to the boot of fellow captain Kyle Healy. The senior didn't miss, calmly placing the ball into the back of the net for the 2-0 lead. The goal was Healy's 10th of the season.
"In the first 5-10 minutes of the game, you have to go. It's like a boxing match, you want to throw the first punch and see how the guy reacts," McLaughlin said. "We got a couple quick chances and we were able to capitalize. But to be honest, in every game, except for the St. Benedict's game this year, we've had some really good chances in the first 5-10 minutes that we didn't put away. It keeps the game in the balance. Today, we put them away. Our attack was wonderful today. I couldn't be more pleased."
The goals just kept coming. Only a few minutes later, the Wildcats received a corner kick from the near side. Matthew McLaughlin tabbed it short to Healy, who kicked it towards the center of the net. The ball bounced around to the box, and found Nolan Bartolone. The skilled junior defender left-footed it into the back of the net past the keeper. The goal, Bartolone's second of the season, advanced the lead to a commanding 3-0 margin.
Near the midway point of the half, the Saint Ignatius offense struck yet again. Curtis found space on the far side of the field. Curtis drew the keeper forward, tabbed it past him and a sliding defender, and then cooly shot it easily into the back of the net. His goal caused Saint Ignatius fans to emit plenty of "Oohs" and "Ahhs" at the excellent goal.
"Normally, when you're trying to stop a team, such as Sylvania Northview, they have two really good players you're targeting to stop," said McLaughlin. "It's a challenge to stop us because we have 6, 7, or 8 guys who can put the ball in the back of the net. There were years when Stephen or Lawrence were scoring most of the goals. You could key on those guys. But we've had a nice balanced of scorers all season."
Despite the offensive onslaught by Saint Ignatius, Northview kept pressing on offense. The Toledo team sent some solid chances at Peter Van Euwen, who gobbled up each chance.
The lead grew once again in the 31st minute. Matthew McLaughlin found an opening in the middle of the field and exploited it. Beating his defender, McLaughlin fired a shot just off the outstretched fingertips of the Northview keeper and into the low left side of the net. McLaughlin's 15th goal of the season, tops on the team, extended the score to 5-0.
Northview kept fighting despite the big deficit. The visitors tabbed a nice through ball that forced a corner kick following a nice defensive play by Kudlo. But the Saint Ignatius defense stopped another promising setpiece by Northview to shut down the momentum.
Northview's increasingly physical play did not slow down the Saint Ignatius offense in the final minutes of the first stanza. Everett Shorey beat his man and fired a wonderful shot at the net, but the Northview keeper made a leaping save to deflect the chance.
The half ended with Saint Ignatius fully in control, 5-0.
Saint Ignatius continued to fire forward on offense to start the second half. The forwards had a couple of promising chances, only to have them negated by offsides calls by the referees.
The sixth goal of the day for Saint Ignatius came about ten minutes into the second. Henry Curtis worked his way into the box and stopped on a dime with the ball, only to have his defender bowl him over to the ground. Since the foul occurred into the box, it incurred a penalty kick. Matthew McLaughlin easily slotted the ball to the low-left corner of the net for his second of the afternoon, initiating a running clock.
McLaughlin made another great play near the midway mark of the half. McLaughlin played a wonderful lead ball to Ryan Roberts, beating the trailing defenders. Roberts placed a promising chance forward, but the goalie got enough of it to prevent a goal.
Northview kept pushing in the final minutes, but Saint Ignatius kept the sheet clean. Van Euwen tallied his third straight shutout and his seventh of the season.
"Peter is a big-time goalkeeper," McLaughlin said. "In order to win a state championship, you need two things – you need a big-time goalkeeper and a goal scorer. We have both. Our goal scorers are all across the team and Peter is getting it done."
Wednesday will mark the third straight season the Wildcats and Bees meet in the State Semifinal. The Soccer Cays will be ready, but not too overconfident.
"It feels good going in, but our team respects the game too much. In any soccer game, anything can happen on any day," said McLaughlin. "We'll be ready for our next opponent."