AVON, Ohio (Nov. 7, 2023) -- In a marathon Tuesday night tussle, Rocky River outlasted Bay in a 110-minute 1-1 draw followed by a 4-2 penalty shootout triumph, and the Pirates now advance to the DII state championship game. [Bracket
Eighty minutes couldn't split the Great Lakes Conference West Division foes. Both tallied solo second-half goals after a bagel sale in the opening 40 minutes. Two overtime sessions of 15 minutes each could not untangle the Pirates and Rockets. But after a heart-stopping, pressure-packed shootout, with River netting four scores and the Rockets two, the Checkered Buccaneers prevailed. And that's the side that will represent the War by the Shore rivalry in Friday's title game.
Tuesday's match was taut throughout. Fans supporting both teams filled the stands at Mark Wahlberg Stadium and were emotionally tossed back and forth in a near-three-hour thrill ride. In a physical game that was 50 degrees at kickoff but seemingly winter when it was over, this one had chills, spills, and thrills. And a rivalry battle of wills.
Rocky River, in a state final four for the third time in four years, outshot Bay 13-4 in a scoreless first half. The Pirates (23-0) put six shots on goal, but Rocket goalkeeper Katie Mold handled all six. Bay (19-3-1) defenders blocked four shots in front of Mold in an opening stanza that saw the Buccaneers best the Rockets in touches, possession time, and scoring chances, but not in goals.
In the second half, Bay came out with some hard-charging pressure, and it became apparent that the likes of goalkeeper Caitlin Rose and backs Charlotte Dean, Lexi Hammermeister, Addie Russell, and Rori Vesy would be called on to make more plays than perhaps they had made in the previous three or four weeks combined. A River offense that went in averaging 6.8 goals per game was being stifled, and the Maroon & White were under duress in their own end. Especially in the first five minutes of the second half.
The opening minutes of the second were all-Bay. Emery Aschenbrener, Aley Fetterman, Maddy Jalovec, Tessa Knapp, and Lily Newton had Pirate defenders on their heels. And they had Rose leaving hers ... to make two tremendous saves.
Once on a direct free kick in the 44th minute and again on a corner kick in the 45th, Rose made spectacular saves to keep the attacking Rockets off the board. Both were grade-A efforts for the senior twine-minder who had been called on to make just 35 saves over River's previous 22 games.
With the Bay surge corked by Rose, the Pirates would then go on the offensive. Rocky River would ditch its first-half three-player sets in close quarters and start playing a long speed game. The result was a stretched field, with fewer Bay defenders to pinball through and more green space in which Pirate forwards and midfielders could operate. And operate they did.
Aggressive passing from the Russell sisters -- Addie and Mackenzie -- and Vesy, set up Rocky River's secondary playmakers -- Olivia Byall, Mia Carney, and Maeve Kelly -- and eventually, the Pirates' big guns -- Ava Patti and Sophia Sindelar in a bounce-back stretch for the Maroon & White.
And that stretch netted the first goal of the contest. In minute No. 50, Patti wrested the ball away from a Bay player near midfield and bolted into Rocket territory. Winding her way between defenders and with speed, the Double-R's all-time leader in assists was able to maintain control of the bounding orb. Bumped and jostled as she slowed to control the ball, Patti fine-tuned her stride when she was 15 yards out on the near-right flank.
With all eyes on Patti, Sindelar slipped between two Rocket backs in a center position 10 yards in front of the Bay goal. Patti delivered a well-placed cross, finding River's all-time leading goal scorer. On the move and with defenders and the 'keeper Mold bearing down on her, Sindlelar settled the pass, took a dribble, and kicked the ball over the goal line and into the net.
It was a kick and then nylon. Then elation and a pile-on, as Sindelar was mobbed by her Rocky River teammates. The goal marked her 59th of the season (coming on Patti's 38th assist of the year).
After the goal, the Pirates did well to keep up the pressure enough that the Rockets would have limited engagement time in the offensive end. River logged a couple near-misses in trying to extend its lead. Pirate defenders parried away a couple looks at the other end, including a blocked shot in a high-danger area by Charlotte Dean.
But in the 68th minute, the Rockets caught a break when some pressure 16 yards out resulted in a bang-bang, quick-kick hand ball in the box. Leading scorer Tessa Knapp rifled the ensuing penalty kick into the net, scoring her 58th goal of the season and tying the game 1-1.
The rivals traded a few quality looks the rest of the way in regulation (Rose was called upon for two more saves), but no twine was dented and the contest went into sudden-death overtime.
River outshot Bay 7-3 across two 15-minute overtime sessions, but neither side could muster a goal. Mold registered a big save in the 93rd minute; she finished the night with eight stops. Both she and Rose would then take center stage in a five-a-side penalty shootout. But only after each overtime and the shootout were preceded by longer-than-any-fan-could-tolerate intermissions. Those breaks only served to heighten the tensions and anxiety in the stands.
What the fans in those stands would witness were River shooters (in order) Sindelar, Patti, and Mackenzie Russell connecting on the Pirates' first three efforts in the shootout. Bay's first and third shooters were denied by Rose on sprawling, out-stretch, out-sized, and out-of-this-world stops.
River's veteran keeper went from being upright and unbothered almost all season to being harassed and flipped sideways on this night. But the result -- through 110 minutes -- was negligible. And her saves gave the shooting-second Pirates a decisive advantage heading into round 4.
Bay tallied its second score of the shootout in round 4. River would win it if sophomore backer Addie Russell could slip one past the Bay goalkeeper.Would. Could. Did.
Russell connected and River erupted. The Maroon & White vanquished their rivals 4-2 in the shootout, ending a long, hard-fought tussle in a Buckeye State semifinal instant classic. A classic featuring two top-10 teams in the state: the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association DII Girls State Poll pegs RRHS third and BHS seventh.
For the game, Rocky River outshot Bay 28-15. The Pirates put nine shots on frame to the Rockets' five. The Double-R doubled up Bay 12-6 in corner kicks.
With the win, the Checkered Buccaneers have checked the last box required so that they may get back to Columbus and celebrate the 10th anniversary of Rocky River's 2013 state championship in style. In person. And in pursuit of a title of their own.
The Pirates will take on Cincinnati Summit (tabbed as No. 2 by the OSSCA poll) Friday in Columbus. The Buckeye State championship game at Historic Crew Stadium is slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Courtesy a 5-0 win in their Tuesday semifinal against West Holmes, the Silver Knights head into Friday with a record of 19-1-3. The Pirates counter with a mark of 23-and-oh my goodness! What a team!
by Skip Snow