SANDUSKY — Mentor's Jake Lombardo scored a goal with just 3:28 left in regulation Wednesday night to lift the third-ranked Cardinals to a 1-0 victory over second-ranked Anthony Wayne in a Division I boys state soccer semifinal at Sandusky Perkins High School.
For the Generals (17-1-4) it was a bitter pill to swallow after playing the aggressor’s role offensively almost throughout. For AW goalkeeper Austin Kaminski, it was especially heart-breaking.
In the seconds leading up to the game-winning play, Kaminski had a split-second decision to clear the ball from left of the goal some 20 yards out.
Before he could possess the ball and find a teammate, Lombardo poked it loose, got around to Kaminski’s left, and saw a wide-open net from 19 yards away.
“I was told to pressure [the keeper] when he had the ball, and I did that,” Lombardo said. “He kind of played it right to me, and I touched it and I shot it.
“To be honest, I was a little nervous [on the shot], but I was able to slot it and put it in the goal.”
Before the ball found the net, the Generals’ last line of defense desperately rushed in, hoping to save the day. But Lombardo, the Cardinals’ top goal-scorer, converted his 22nd in 22 games on a right-footed shot, and sent the Cardinals (18-0-4) to Saturday’s state championship match.
“The loss hurts,” Generals coach Brian Billings said, “but the way in which we lost really hurts. To have a ball there on your foot and a chance to clear it, and put it on their star forward’s foot for him to finish.
“But we’re proud of the kids and the effort they put in. It was a tremendous season and one game doesn’t take away from that.”
It was a stunning end to a superb season for the Northern Lakes League champion Generals, who outscored their opposition 65-9 this season, and had allowed just two goals over their prior 12 games.
“You’ve got to follow balls in that are played to the keeper, and Jake put himself in a position to score,” Mentor coach Chris Payne said. “The keeper made a mistake and Jake was able to bring it down.
“He still had a lot of work to do once he got it. It wasn’t just a tap-in. He had to go back around the keeper, and by then some of their defenders had filled in. So, he had to pick his spot, and he was able to keep his composure and finish it.”
It was also difficult for AW to absorb after it had possessed the ball for roughly two thirds of the match, and generated five shots on goal to just two for Mentor, which will meet top-ranked Mason (20-0-1) in the state final.
“You feel for [Kaminski] because he’s been phenomenal all year,” Billings said. “He’s kept us in games, and made big saves to win us games.
“It’s a team game. On the offensive end we had opportunities we didn’t take, and they put one in. It is what it is. We didn’t finish.”
In the scoreless first half, Kaminski did not face a shot on goal, while the Generals had one on Cardinals goalkeeper Matt Markiewicz off a shot from Anthony Wayne’s J.J. Fortner midway in the half.
Mentor got a key assisted save from Brock Venman in the 21st minute after AW’s Andrew Yokum sent a cross into the six-yard box to Ben Conkin, whose header appeared destined for the goal.
Venman headed the ball out about two feet from the goal line.
The Generals got shots on goal from Zach Harris, A.J. Witte, and Philip Reed between the 55th and 68th minute, but none were difficult chances for Markiewicz.
“They were very good on the ball and have a certain style that causes some problems,” Billings said of Mentor. “But we caused them some problems. Ultimately it comes down to taking your chances, and we had a few and didn’t really take them. Then [Lombardo] steps up and puts one in the net.
“You keep perspective. It was a great season. Probably the best two years back to back in Anthony Wayne history for the boys program. It hurts now, but you just try to tell them to keep perspective.”