BAY VILLAGE, Ohio - St. John's Jesuit came excruciatingly close to upsetting Strongsville in a Division I regional final, giving the Mustangs all they could handle before ultimately falling in overtime Saturday.
St. John's (14-8-0) led 1-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining, then lost in overtime 2-1 to powerhouse Strongsville (16-1-3).
Titans junior midfielder Adam Montague got things going with a goal 30:58 into the game. But Strongsville carried the play in the second half and tied it with just over nine minutes left. The Mustangs' Vlad Lekarev then ended the Titans' season by getting around a defender and then by keeper Chip Searles. Lekarev, who scored both goals for Strongsville, knocked in the winner with his left foot.
"I told them to hold their heads high," St. John's coach Dan Weisenburger said. "They did all they could to win. So many people counted us out after we had seven losses, and we made it to the final eight. I told them they played like Titans today."
St. John's just missed tallying the game winner with just over a minute left in regulation when a header from inside the box hit the post. Ryan Peterson got his head on the rebound, but it was stopped by diving Strongsville goalie Alex Ivanov.
"That was our best chance," Weisenburger said. "How we did not finish that off I don't know. But that's how the game works."
Then only an incredible leaping save by Ivanov prevented Montague from ending it early in OT. Montague put all he had into a shot from in close, but Ivanov deflected it over the net.
"It's heartbreaking to come this far and for it to come down to a chance like that where everyone thinks it's in but it just doesn't go in," Montague said. "We exceeded everyone's expectations. We have to be proud to have given them a scare."
Strongsville coach Tobey Cook called Montague "the real deal" and "one tough soccer player."
"We expected it to be a hard fought game," Cook said. "Obviously we were fortunate when they hit the header off the post. Then our keeper made an unbelievable save."
Strongsville came into the game ranked fifth in the state. St. John's was unranked. The Mustangs' only loss this season came to No. 1-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius. The Titans had lost three of its last five regular-season games before winning four straight in the postseason and outscoring their foes 13-2.
Searles, who returned from various ailments to spark the playoff run, finished with eight saves. Searles came up with a huge save three minutes into the second half. The Mustangs poured on the pressure midway through the second, and Searles again was solid. He cleared a centering pass off of a corner kick with 26:04 left.
With 9:44 left, Searles came out of his net to stop a Mustang who had broken free. But Strongsville finally knotted it up at 1 on Lekarev's goal with 9:02 left.
Montague, a midfielder, scored 30:58 into the game. Peterson, a forward, made a nice touch pass to Montague, who knocked the ball by Ivanov. Junior midfielder Tommy McIntyre also had a hand in the goal with a pass to Peterson.
Montague had the best chance of the game moments earlier when his shot hit off the cross bar, but he also was ruled offside.
"Adam is an exceptional athlete," Weisenburger said. "He played today like he wanted to be the best player on the field, and a lot of times he was."
Peterson had another quality opportunity five minutes after the first goal but was thwarted by Ivanov.
Searles made a nice save on Strongsville's first shot on goal with 15:50 left in the first half. With 1:35 left, Searles came out of his net and stopped a point blank shot to protect the 1-0 cushion.
Strongsville outshot St. John's 4-2 in the first half and 10-6 overall.
"Chip has been marvelous," Montague said. "He was ready to go and helped us continue to win in the postseason. We were psyched up and ready to go. Talent wise they may be a bit better, but we had a bit more heart tonight."
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