ELYRIA — Elyria Catholic dominated everywhere but the scoreboard on Monday night in a Division III district semifinal. And while the final score didn’t quite reflect that dominance, the Panthers are confident heading into Thursday night’s final against Wellington in their chances to repeat as district champs.
Independence scored three times in the second half to get within a goal of the Panthers, but EC countered and managed a 4-3 victory over the Blue Devils. Wellington beat Cuyahoga Heights 1-0 earlier Monday for the other berth in the district final.
“I think maybe (we) felt a little too comfortable in the second half, and maybe that was my fault for giving them too much credit at halftime,” EC coach Tony Rozanc said. “But 2-0 is a tough lead to have, and I’m proud of our team for the way we controlled the game.”
EC (12-2-4) outshot Independence 9-2 in the first half and forced the Blue Devils to take 14 goal kicks, a clear indicator of the Panthers’ dominance.
EC had two early chances, the first a Keely Birsic shot that went just over the crossbar in the 14th minute after a spot-on pass from Jenna Ellingson.
Two minutes later, Independence barely escaped a scrum in front of the net after a well-placed Anastazja Golab corner.
EC finally broke through in the 24th minute, when Danielle Dziak just managed to save a teammate’s cross near the end line and fed Meliah Roman, who niftily chipped over Independence keeper Kayla Spilker’s head.
In the 37th minute, the Panthers enlisted their secret weapon — McKenzie Rozanc’s big throws — to make it 2-0. Rozanc got an EC break started, and after her teammates pressured the ball deep into the corner, Birsic settled the Blue Devils’ attempted clearance, took one dribble and fired past Spilker from 30 yards.
“(Coach) tells us to go into every game like we’re losing 3-0,” said EC captain Lauren Wisnor, the team’s only senior starter. “We have to press their back line until we’re able to get those goals. We’re coming together.”
Independence, though, sliced the lead in half in the 49th minute, when Jen Wisniewski — whose speed gave the Panthers fits all evening — got behind the EC back line and was in alone on keeper Katherine Gauntner. Rozanc, though, took her down from behind, earning a yellow card for her trouble. Wisniewski, on the ensuing free kick, beat Gauntner in the upper right corner, despite Gauntner getting a mitt on it.
EC appeared to get its insurance goal in the 69th minute, as Wisnor expertly beat Spilker with a left-footed shot from the top of the 18-yard box, a goal assisted by Ellingson. But the Blue Devils countered on their next trip down the field, with Ashley Pucella knocking in a cross from Wisniewski.
The Panthers finally got their insurance in the 78th, after a Blue Devils clearance of a Wisnor free kick landed at Golab’s feet. Golab’s long, left-footed shot bounced off the post and in, a goal needed for the victory, as Independence scored just before the buzzer for the final margin.
The Panthers, meanwhile, will look to make it back-to-back district championships Thursday, though Tony Rozanc said he believes the team can go further. The Panthers lost to Laurel 2-0 in the regional semifinal last season.
“We’re coming together, and we’ll do whatever it takes to be district champs,” Wisnor said. “That was our goal before the year, and we’re going to achieve it.”
Elyria Catholic 4, Independence 3
- GOALS: (I) Jen Wisniewski (49th), Ashley Pucella (69th), Sarah Flynn (80th); (EC) Meliah Roman (24th), Keely Birsic (37th), Lauren Wisnor (69th), Anastazja Golab (78th).
- ASSISTS: (I) Wisniewski; (EC) Danielle Dziak, McKenzie Rozanc, Jenna Ellingson, Wisnor.
- SHOTS: Independence 6, Elyria Catholic 17.
- SHOTS ON GOAL: Independence 4, Elyria Catholic 9.
- SAVES: (I) Kayla Spilker 5; (EC) Katherine Gauntner 1.
- CORNER KICKS: Independence 3 Elyria Catholic 9.
- GOAL KICKS: Independence 21Elyria Catholic 4.
- OFFSIDE: Independence 0 Elyria Catholic 1.
- FOULS: Independence 3 Elyria Catholic 12.
- CARDS: (EC) Rozanc (yellow, 49th), bench (yellow, 69th).
- HALFTIME: Elyria Catholic, 2-0.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.