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Janis, Mooney sink Champion

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Cardinal Mooney’s Marek Torma (20) and Champion’s Preston Lefkowitz (16) jostle for the ball Tuesday night during a Division III sectional playoff game.

CHAMPION — After an up-and-down start to the season, the Cardinal Mooney boys soccer team is starting to “hit its stride.”

The Cardinals (8-4-6) haven’t lost a game since Sept. 30 — winning four games during that stretch, while drawing three.

Behind a hat trick from sophomore midfielder Mason Janis, the Cardinals continued their run Tuesday night, beating Champion 8-1 in the second round of the OHSAA Division III sectional playoffs.

“We did struggle at the start of the season because we graduated a big portion of our team,” Cardinal Mooney head coach Matthew Britton said. “We graduated our entire midfield so we had to bleed some younger players in, and it took awhile for them to hit their stride. We’re now starting to understand how we need to play. It’s starting to gel and as you can see, our performances of late have been very successful.”

Knowing the Golden Flashes (11-7-1) like to run an offside trap with their defensive backline, the Cardinals started fast, netting two goals in the first 15 minutes. Janis scored his first in the fourth minute and junior defender Patrick Dambrogio’s goal came in the 14th minute.

Britton said they spent the last two days of practice working to prepare for Champion’s offside trap. The Cardinals’ forwards were aggressive in attack, sitting on the shoulders of Champion’s backline, waiting to pounce on through balls. To counter that, Golden Flashes head coach Jaimie Futchko utilized a high backline for his defense.

“Right off the bat, we noticed that they were pushing hard, so we adjusted with the high backline,” Futchko said. “Then, they were adjusting the runs in the second half and they just adjusted better than us. It was a little too much for the guys to handle and we came up short.”

Despite the early deficit, Champion stayed within striking distance of the Cardinals at halftime, down 3-0.

“We knew we just had to slow down the pace of the game, get our touches more under control, look up the field, keep our composure and just keep going away,” Futchko said. “They’re a great team. We knew it was going to be a battle, but composure is the biggest thing. Sometimes you just play a better team and that was the case.”

However, the Cardinals were relentless in attack. Despite countless saves by Champion junior goalkeeper Matt Russell and fueled again by another fast start, Cardinal Mooney scored five more goals in the second half, all coming in the first 15 minutes of the period.

“Our intensity was poor throughout the first half — we played well, but our intensity was low,” Britton said. “Coming out in the second half, we wanted to step up the pressure and intensity. We played with a purpose through the midfield and we were able to put the game to bed.”

Two of the second-half goals came from Janis, completing his hat trick, while the other three were scored by junior midfielder William Varley, sophomore midfielder Nick Pregibon and senior forward Savvas Pizanias.

“It was a whole team effort because they were the ones playing me the ball and I was running onto it,” Janis said. “We played really well together in the second half. We had good vision for the field and the balls we were playing were good.”

As the No. 9 seed, Cardinal Mooney will now face top-seeded Crestview in the sectional final on Saturday. Crestview beat No. 12 seed Labrae 9-0 Tuesday night.

For the Golden Flashes, despite losing just one game since Sept. 7, their season comes to a close.

“Overall it was a great season for the guys — we can only go up from here,” Futchko said. “We’re going to build and we’re going to do the things we need to do. It’s good to face teams like Cardinal Mooney because there’s an elevated level so we can see that’s the type of soccer we want to play. It sucks for the seniors, but that’s the nature of the game. You have to keep the program rolling and keep the objectives clear and we just keep chugging along.”

sports@tribtoday.com

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