WELLINGTON — When someone finally puts together a compendium of the best soccer games ever played on Lorain County soil, Oberlin and Wellington will be mentioned several times.
If the list existed today, the newest entry would be Wellington’s 1-0 victory over Oberlin on Wednesday. It was a battle fully befitting a rancorous old rivalry between teams previously unbeaten in Patriot Athletic Conference play.
This fan-friendly thriller wasn’t decided until the final 30 seconds. With a strong defensive job, the undefeated Dukes made Christian Huelsman’s goal in the 55th minute hold up for their ninth straight victory. They improved to 6-0 in the conference.
Except for the goal, Oberlin’s defensive effort might have been even more impressive because the defense and goalkeeper Nate Sabelli were a lot busier by necessity. Sabelli saved 16 of the Dukes’ 17 shots on target and earned another save by breaking up a play before a shot was taken.
Oberlin played without a starter, senior Josh Manning, who was on crutches.
The outcome boiled down to one of the prettiest crossing passes you’ll ever see in a high-school soccer match. Wellington midfielder Brendan Rinehart took a pass from Kyle Bartolovich on the right flank in the Oberlin end and dribbled to the end line in the right corner. He sent his crossing pass through a crowd of defenders right in front of the Phoenix goal — where Huelsman was stationed.
“Coach (Bill Little) has been telling us in practice to take it down to the (end) line,” Rinehart said. “I just took it down and Christian was yelling for it. I saw he was open and I just crossed it. I’m lucky he put it in.”
The senior Huelsman scored his 22nd goal of the season and 125th of his high school career. The total brings him within three goals of Chris Dore, former Lorain Catholic star and now the boys coach at Avon. Dore’s 128 goals are second on the county’s all-time list. Billy Waters, also a former LC player, scored 144 career goals.
Oberlin (7-3, 6-1 PAC) had its chances. Josh Centanni sent a shot at the Dukes’ net that forced keeper Ryan Paznako to make a save midway through the first half. A corner kick by Oberlin’s Hardik Patel was headed out of harm’s way by the Dukes’ Bartolovich in the 48th minute.
And the Phoenix had two late chances. Senior captain Jon Zapotechne fired a direct kick from 25 yards after a Wellington foul, but the ball went just over the crossbar and landed on top of the net. Then with 30 seconds to play, Patel had another look, but Paznako made the save on a low shot that was right on target.
Wellington outshot Oberlin 29-8, and a majority of the Dukes’ shots came from the head and feet of senior Greg Stawicki, their second-leading scorer with 16 goals and 42 total points. In short, they kept Oberlin keeper Sabelli busy. But for his play and the play of the defenders in front of him, the score could have been one-sided.
“Our defense played great today,” Sabelli said. “Nick (Chmura) is always great and Zack Robey really stepped it up a lot and so did Andy (Miller). That’s probably the most shots I’ve faced this season. Most of my games have been pretty quiet.”
Dan LaBianca, Oberlin’s first-year head coach, liked what his defense did.
“Defensively we were sound and we had our chances,” he said. “We put a couple on frame that might have made it a different story. They (Dukes) didn’t defend the whole time, but when they did, they had to and they did a good job in that respect. My hat’s off to them. That’s a good team.”
Bill Little, Wellington’s veteran coach, was relieved to win a match that could have gone the other way.
“That’s a good team they have there,” Little said. “He’s (LaBianca) done a lot with that team. They lost a lot last year, but Jon Zapotechne and some of their other players have stepped up. They’re going to give people problems the rest of the way out.”
Oberlin’s previous losses were to Lake Ridge and Division I Shaker Heights.
Wellington 1, Oberlin 0
GOALS: (W) Christian Huelsman, 22nd.
ASSISTS: (W) Brendon Rinehart, 3rd.
SHOTS: Oberlin 8, Wellington 29.
SHOTS ON TARGET: Oberlin 3, Wellington 17.
SAVES: (O) Nathan Sabelli 17, (W) Ryan Poznako 3.
CORNER KICKS: Oberlin 4, Wellington 6.
GOAL KICKS: Oberlin 10, Wellington 2.
OFFSIDE: Oberlin 2, Wellington 3.
HAND BALLS: Oberlin 1, Wellington 3.
OTHER INFRACTIONS: Oberlin 11, Wellington 18.
CARDS: (O) Daniel Bulhosa yellow, 44th minute, (W) Ben Bogan yellow, 64th minute.
HALFTIME: No score.