By BRIAN EVERSON
No one would’ve faulted the Cougars if they had gone out in the playoffs at the hands of Utica Eisenhower last season, and a year later, nothing’s changed.
Stoney Creek’s effort to repeat as Division 1 titlists came to an end Friday night, falling 1-0 to the Eagles in a district final on home turf.
A repeat of last year’s passage of regional play, Ike’s undefeated 2016 was derailed by a 3-0 Stoney victory. The Eagles (18-4) returned nearly all its integral weapons from that team, and it showed against the defending champions.
“Getting into the district championship in this district means a lot, and it’s always going to be a battle,” Stoney Creek coach Bryan Mittelstadt said. “Tonight was the same kind of thing.”
The game’s decisive moment came with 24:48 to go in the second half when Eisenhower senior midfielder Bella Jodzis supplied a cross to sophomore forward Lauren DeBeau, who flicked a header from 12 yards inside the far post.
“Bella really knows how to play a great ball in, and when I saw it I kept my eye on it and got it in. [I knew right away] I got it in,” DeBeau said.
Eisenhower coach Mehrdad Nekoogar had praise of Stoney’s quality, saying he didn’t believe the one goal was enough to expect victory.
“Not against Stoney, no,” Nekoogar said. “When you play a team of their caliber, of course not, but we knew we had to slow down the game and play a bit more defensively. It was a heckuva game.”
Though there wasn’t an overflow of scoring opportunities, several high-percentage chances arose for each team. Both sides had clearances at point-blank range in the early portion of the first half, and the Cougars (14-4-3) came painstakingly close to tying the match in the final 10 seconds with a shot from within 15 yards that was pulled wide of the near post.
Mittelstadt indicated that not being able to capitalize on the set pieces that have powered his team’s scoring made up part of the difference.
“All season we’ve capitalized on sets and corners, hung in games and defended really well,” Mittelstadt said. “Even tonight, they put us under pressure, but in the first half we took that pressure — a lot of scary moments — but we had composure and held in there to [halftime] where we wanted to be. The first 10 minutes of the second half, we looked good, had a few free kicks and corners. That’s been our game, and last year that’s what got us going. Tonight, we just didn’t get on the other end of them.”
Stoney shuffled formations to try and find an answer to stymie Ike’s advances, but the Eagles did enough to win the midfield game after the break and minimize opportunities from the home team.
“We threw everything at them,” Mittelstadt said. “I think we had four up top [at the end] actually. It’s a district game, so we wanted to make sure we weren’t going to sit back. We were going to give everything we had and I think we did.”
“I was happy with our kids, though. They were composed. It was a fast-paced, physical game and our kids stayed in it until the end. I think the drive was there. Eisenhower might have [more], but I don’t think we came in overconfident or that things were going to be easy. We knew it’d be a battle.”
The Cougars will graduate nine seniors, many of them major contributors from last year’s run that saw them knock off some of the state’s best schools, including first-team all-state midfielder Emily Solek, and Gina Cerny, a second-team selection.
Mittelstadt, though, developed a number of talented underclassmen who will ensure the cupboard isn’t bare.
“In regards to getting other players in and developed for the future, I think that’s key to the success and longevity of our program,” he said. “We return a lot of high-quality players.”