WELLINGTON — This has been a tough season for Elyria Catholic’s boys soccer team — on and off the field.
But Saturday’s 1-0 win over third-seeded Wellington in a Division III sectional final at Wellington High School will definitely make everyone feel a lot better.
Fifth-seeded EC (9-8-1) — which has dedicated the season to junior goalie Jakob Hwang, who has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — moves on to face second-seeded Independence on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the district semifinals.
“We were ready for Wellington today, we practiced hard this week and executed,” Elyria Catholic coach Eric Kisela said. “We were fortunate to overcome a very good, physical team today.”
The game was a back-and-forth battle from the beginning as neither team could get much of a rally going. The defenses and back lines for both teams kept coming up big, forcing limited offense and scoring opportunities.
The Panthers were finally able to break through midway through the first half. Like so many times this season, it came thanks to a corner kick.
After a few deflections from both teams, sophomore Andrew Muzilla found the ball right in front of him with a clear shot on goal. He took advantage, pushing the ball past Wellington goalie Steven Del Campo for his first varsity goal.
“I honestly wanted to do this so bad for J.,” Muzilla said of Hwang. “I was really focused on that. The ball deflected off of someone and came to me and I just swung and got it under the bar.”
It turned out to be the only goal the Panthers needed.
“Andrew had a beautiful shot on the corner kick to give us the lead, which was incredible,” Kisela said. “That’s a goal he’ll never forget.”
Wellington (9-8) had its chances after intermission but couldn’t capitalize, failing to find the net on three shots on goals and a corner kick in the first five minutes of the half.
“We played hard until the final whistle, like we have all season long,” Wellington coach Andrew Lara said. “Sometimes we just struggle to get the ball in the net and it was one of those days.”
With the season on the line and time running out, the Dukes made a few more pushes in the final minutes.
A header just missed on one attempt and Panthers goalie Bryce Hileman caught another .
A corner kick with one minute remaining was Wellington’s last hope, but Elyria Catholic’s Tanner Brooks made a nice play to knock the ball away and seal the victory.
“We worked so hard and just played really well as a team,” Muzilla said. “Wellington was very physical but we were ready for them.”
Hwang has been out of the lineup since being diagnosed several weeks ago, but he’s been on the sideline supporting his team.
“We’re rallying around him,” Kisela said. “We’re a family and he’s a big part of that. He spoke at halftime and gave us some really good words.”
Contact Paul Williams at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria Catholic 1, Wellington 0
GOALS: (EC) Andrew Muzilla
SAVES: (EC) Bryce Hileman 5; (W) Steven Del Campo 4
SHOTS ON GOAL: Elyria Catholic 9, Wellington 14
CORNER KICKS: Elyria Catholic 3, Wellington 3
HALFTIME: Elyria Catholic, 1-0