Rangers Advance to OHSAA Boys Soccer District Finals
The Lakewood boys soccer team advanced in the OHSAA tournament Wednesday night by defeating North Royalton 2-0 in a hard fought battle. The Bears, who earned home field for the game due to their regular season record of 11-1-4, were considered favorites in the matchup. A pair of Ben Harvey goals and a strong defensive effort made the difference, sending the Rangers to the Saturday district championship game against St. Ignatius.
The game was played on a chilly night in North Royalton, with fans of both teams bundled in their winter attire. North Royalton maintained possession in the opening minutes, largely controlling the tempo for the first eight minutes. Lakewood had its first scoring chance in the ninth minute, but Bear goalkeeper Ryan Newman saved the shot. The action returned to the Rangers defensive end, where goalkeeper George Hericks was knocked down by a Bears player in the 13th minute. Two minutes later the Bears got a ball behind Hericks…but a pair of Ranger defenders were able to clear it out just a couple feet from the goal line. North Royalton maintained pressure throughout the next few minutes, but were unable to crack the Ranger defense.
The game turned late in the 23rd minute. Ranger defender Ben Harvey sent what appeared to be a crossing pass from deep on the right side of the field. However, the ball curved into the left upright and ricocheted into the goal. Newman was helpless to stop the shot, which appeared to be from an impossible angle. The many Ranger fans in attendance exploded with cheers as Lakewood held a 1-0 lead. Five minutes later Harvey struck again, this time on a much more conventional shot. Junior Malvin Gblah dribbled near the Bears goal, then dished a great pass to Harvey in front of the goal. Harvey pounded it into the net, making the score 2-0 and shocking the home crowd.
Lakewood held that lead for the rest of the half, setting up a decisive 40 minutes of soccer. North Royalton opened the second half aggressively, as senior Jimmy Giles and sophomore Zak Peterjohn each had shots go wide in the first ten minutes. Lakewood was able to withstand the attack, and even created its own opportunities midway through the second half. A Ranger shot bounced off the left post in the 65th minute, narrowly missing a 3-0 lead. The Bears continued to scrap for the rest of the game, getting some opportunities. Hericks continued to rise to the occasion, keeping the shutout as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Harvey scored the game’s only goals, but Ranger head coach Andrew Toth had plenty of praise for other players after the game, too. “Attila Nagy played the best game of his career”, Toth said about the senior midfielder. He also called Gblah “the most dynamic player we’ve ever had at Lakewood High”, a strong statement considering the program’s tradition. Toth said the win was the product of the program’s culture, which he has worked to instill over the past eleven years.
Lakewood (13-4-1) is playing its best soccer of the season at the right time. They are 11-1-1 since September 6 and undefeated in their last nine games. Their next opponent will be the toughest of all: St. Ignatius (11-3-3) is the defending state champion. The Wildcats defeated St. Edward 5-1 on Wednesday night to advance to the district final. The Lakewood/St. Ignatius game will take place at Brecksville/Broadview Height High School on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm, but is likely to be changed due to conflict with the St. Edward/St. Ignatius American Football game.
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1