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River snaps streak, bolts forth in bracket with win over Bruins
Wes Bennett
ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (May 16, 2023) -- Rocky River has earned itself an advance forward in the Buckeye State playoffs. A Tuesday triumph over Padua -- by a score of 7-1 -- has the Pirates lined up for a Friday game in the DII Region 5 District Tournament.

On Tuesday, River got a five-point game from senior attackman Wes Bennett, big defensive performances from freshman defenseman Cohen Blair, senior midfielder Parker Hartup, and sophomore defenseman William Sawyer, and a lockdown denial by senior goalkeeper Carter Smith. The Pirates won the game in wire-to-wire fashion in halting an eight-game losing streak. The win marked the team's first since April 15.

The Pirates got a big momentum goal from Bennett with just two seconds remaining in the first half. Padua had just scored with 34 seconds left (David Olson) to get within one (2-1) in what had been a taut, patient opening 23 minutes for both sides, but Bennett's second goal of the evening -- a wraparound with a well-timed dodge and a well-placed wrister -- gave the Double-R a two-goal lead and some confidence heading into the intermission.

In the third quarter, the Bruins battled back, getting 11 shots and putting six on frame. But Smith turned aside all six while his teammates 80 yards away found twine with half as many. River got goals from Ryan Hildebrand, Dominic Ricketti, and Bennett, and by the end of the third the Sons of Blackbeard were firmly in control of a 6-1 affair.

The fourth frame saw the Pirates kill off a penalty, score on a man-up chance of their own (Bennett from Matthew Malloy), and watch the senior with the pool skimmer harvest a third bagel of the evening. Smith stymied four more shots in that final stanza; he finished with 11 saves in the game.

With his five points, Bennett now has 50 on the season (35 goals, 15 assists). He is one of just three Pirates to register a 50-point season since 2019 (Hayden Weaver 58, Will Bennett 52 in 2021).

Bennett's offense Tuesday was set up in part by River's stops and takeaways at the other end. Blair (two ground balls, four caused turnovers), Hartup (4 GB, 1 CT), and Sawyer (3 GB, 1 CT) were particularly effective in flipping possessions and helping the home side control the pellet on loose exchanges. Sawyer also clocked his first career point -- an assist -- when he fed Ricketti in the crease on a transition play.

For the game, River won 54% (27-of-50) of ground balls and was a plus-7 (10, 17) in the turnover exchange. The Pirates' plus-7 in turnovers marked the team's best performance in that category since March 21 (plus-10 vs. Brunswick).

Padua outshot Rocky River 35-27, but the Pirates put 19 shots on goal to the Bruins' 12. Goalkeeper Liam Conway made 12 stops for Padua.

And now the Maroon & White will head west: River will meet No. 4 seed Toledo St. John's Friday at 6 p.m.

by Skip Snow

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