ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – A precise, 28-yard cannon blast and a bold assault on the enemy’s rear flank resulted in a swashbuckling Pirate victory on Monday night. A 79th minute free kick by senior Allison Contenza – a bending 85-foot artillery shot – found the fleet feet of freshman Sophia Murray, barreling toward the far post of the Bruin goal at flank speed. Murray redirected the Contenza whistler, emphatically denting the back of the net for the eventual game-winner in a thrilling 2-1 win over Padua.
The victory in Monday’s postseason contest at Rocky River Stadium sends the Pirates – the No. 4 seed in the Division II Elyria Section/District brackets – to a district final for a seventh time in the last nine years.
Murray’s eighth goal of the season untangled a 1-1 score after River had let a lead slip away in the 70th minute. A volley of monster-size momentum shifts after 56 minutes of scoreless soccer saw the Pirates score in the 57th minute, the Bruins answer in the 70th and the Detroit Road Buccaneers defend their home turf with what felt like a do-or-die goal in the 79th.
Rocky River (10-6-2) controlled the action over the early minutes of the contest. The Pirates managed three shots, including two on goal, over the first 10 minutes of action. During that stretch, the River attack was at its most dangerous in he sixth minute when Lydia Brandt found Annie O’Toole on a long pass from the left flank. O’Toole won a race to the ball 10 yards in front of the Padua goal, but her right-footed shot banged off the Bruin goalkeeper – Maya Rusnak – who was charging hard to close the angle.
The Bruins’ offense got going over the second 10 minutes of the match. That period netted a couple decent looks for the visitors. The best of those came on a mid-box shot requiring a diving save by sophomore ‘keeper Sabrina Rick in the 14th minute.
The back half of the first was a mostly even exchange of midfield possession time, two or three touches at a time before being flipped. Rocky River nearly broke the scoreless tie in the 36th minute when a sharp-angle missile off the foot of Addie Harris was tipped in the air and eventually corralled by Rusnak just inches in front of the goal line.
The next near-miss came after halftime – in the 52nd minute — when a perfectly lofted O’Toole cross was athletically nodded toward the goal but over the crossbar by Lizzie Hamker.
Hamker would get another quality chance on a header about five minutes later.
In the 57th minute, a Scottish Highland Games-caber-toss of a throw in by Alexandra Gluntz found Hamker working her way free between defenders some 4 yards in front of the Padua net. Hamker got to the ball first and crowned it into the south-end twine. Hamker’s eighth goal of the year. More importantly, the first goal of the contest at hand between the Pirates and Bruins.
But Hamker’s goal wouldn’t have much of a shelf life. No. 8-seed Padua (7-11-1) struck for the game-tying goal in the 70th minute when junior Alexandria Stocker broke free down the right side, deep into Pirate territory. Stocker stayed a step-and-a-half ahead of two River pursuers and rifled off a 13-yard shot that vaulted over Rick’s reach and into the north-end goal.
River’s clincher would come after a whistle for a Padua foul with 1:49 showing on the game clock. After helping the Pirates control the midfield – along with the likes of Alexandra Gluntz, Kailey Budzar, Ellie Duncan and Sam Miller — for 78 minutes, Contenza controlled the placement of the ball near River touch-line. Some 40 yards away, Murray planned her assault on the Padua net while the Bruin defense set itself to defend against a shot or a cross.
What Contenza – River’s most consistent source of assists the last two seasons – gave the Bruins was a little of both. A bender that started inside the far post and worked its way outward, toward a maroon blur dashing into the fray. A maroon blur wearing jersey No. 18.
One final volley in a Pirate battle on the North Coast. And a direct hit for the senior Contenza .. and the freshman Murray .. and the rest of a Pirate crew in between which has lived to fight another day.
CANNON FIRE …
ON DECK: Rocky River will face the No. 3-seed Bay Rockets – 3-2 overtime winners over No. 2 Holy Name — in the DII Elyria District final. That contest is slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Thursday at a site to be announced. The Pirates defeated the Rockets, 1-0, when the two Great Lakes Conference foes (and eventual GLC co-champions) met during the regular season on Aug. 29).
NUMBERS GAME: In Monday’s contest – which was played on a clear, crisp autumn evening – the Pirates outshot the Bruins, 15-6.. Rocky River put eight shots on goal to Padua’s five. Sabrina Rick made four saves in the match. … With her game-winner, Sophia Murray has now netted three goals over River’s last four contests. Lizzie Hamker has also scored in 3-of-River’s-last-4. … Monday’s victory runs Rocky River’s 2018 home record to 6-1-2. The Pirates are now 15-2-2 (.842) at the Detroit Road home grounds over the last two years (2017-18).
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