BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
SOLON – It’s kind of weird they were even in the same class, but Holy Trinity Catholic, whose entire high school enrollment is almost equal to Solon’s graduating class, hung around with the Spartans for most of the game before falling 3-0 to end the season Wednesday at Solon.
The Crusaders had the first couple shots in the game and seemed to have pushed the 14-5 Spartans back on their heels a bit, but then the play evened out and Solon was able to establish some momentum and got a couple shots of their own at HTC keeper Bailey Merschman. Merschman had 10 saves on the night and frequently was horizontal knocking balls to the side as well as some leaping bumps that sent the ball over the top of the goal.
The Spartans used a tighter passing game than Holy Trinity, who regularly would send the ball half the field on one kick and look to get a break at the goal.
With almost 14 minutes gone in the first half, Solon got on the board with a shot from Luke Yetley at about 10 feet out that snuck in over Merschman’s outstretched hands at the 26:28 mark.
Merschman, a senior who first started playing team soccer last year, said he thought he had some good saves on the night, but Solon was a very quick team.
“They had some really good goals, too,” Merschman said after the game.
The two teams traded field position for the rest of the first half with Solon controlling the action for the most part. HTC senior Connor Conrad was playing deep defense for the Crusaders and regularly cleared the ball on Spartan advances.
Senior Nick Pothitakis got several shots on goal in the first half, but couldn’t find the angle or velocity to get by the Spartan’s Eric Weetman.
“At the beginning of the game we started a little slow,” Pothitakis said. “We weren’t working the ball up the field as well as they were – getting it outside and back in. We just started slow.”
But head coach Ryan Culbertson said he was happy that his squad was only down by one at the half.
“This is a good team that’s played some really good competition. Our kids thought after going into the half down by just one against this team that they had a chance,” Culbertson said. “We praised them on how well they played in the first half and I think the heart and determination of our seniors kind of pushed everybody else. They didn’t want the season to come to an end tonight.”
The second half started much the same as the first, but the Crusaders were able to keep the ball in the Solon half of the pitch more often than the first. Solon was able to capitalize on a break away with 25:05 left in the game. The Spartans had a three-on-two press to the goal and got the ball up in the air when Benjamin Carr headed one into the goal high and to Merschman’s left to put Solon up 2-0.
After about 10 more minutes and no goals scored, Culbertson sent Conrad into a forward position hoping to provide a spark for the Crusaders.
“We put Connor up there for an extra body just trying to get some kind of spark.” Culbertson said.
Pothitakis seemed to work well with Conrad in a scoring position but the two couldn’t get a ball in the net despite several close shots on goal and some penalty and corner kicks.
“When we got down 2-0, we put Connor up top just for another man up there to get us going. We kind of had to get a goal at that point and I think that may be why we sacrificed that last goal,” he said.
The Spartans Isaac Vang found the net in the final two minutes to put the game out of reach.
“I had a blast coaching these kids this year,” Culbertson said. “I had eight seniors this year so next year’s going to be a big rebuilding year.”
Pothitakis, who led the Crusaders in scoring this year, said he was proud of the way the team held together.
“Our record didn’t turn out as we had hoped,” he said. “We lost a lot of close games. We blew a couple of leads that we shouldn’t have, but as a whole it was a good season. I’m proud of what our team turned out to do at the very end. We improved a lot as the season went on.”
The Crusaders finished the season 8-10 overall.