June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Nicole Bennett’s goal adds drama of Bees tourney run

ROCKY RIVER — Nicole Bennett was at a loss for words Thursday night.

She had reason to be after netting the game-winning goal in the final minutes of overtime to move Medina’s girls soccer team into the Elite Eight with a 1-0 victory over Westlake in a Division I regional semifinal at Rocky River.

Medina’s Nicole Bennett heads the ball against Westlake’s Danielle Pellegrino. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDD SMERGLIA)

It was not just how the junior forward scored, but when she did it, too. With her momentum going to the sideline, Bennett blasted a perfect shot that left her face down on the turf with a storm of fans on top of her.

“It was a one-in-a-million shot,” Bennett said with tears in her eyes. “I was on the ground, on my stomach, and I looked up and saw it go right over the goalie’s hand.”

The goal was Bennett’s eighth of the postseason and propelled Medina (13-5-2) into a regional championship game for the first time since 2009. The Bees will take on No. 1 Perrysburg (20-0) on Saturday afternoon in Sandusky.

“I can’t say enough about Nicole Bennett,” Medina coach Doug Coreno said. “What a great kid and what a great player. She works so hard and she has scored so many big goals for us over the last couple of weeks. What a great effort from her tonight.”

Something had to give after Medina had 11 corner kick attempts and five shots on goal, but it took an extra session to do it.

The Bees came out at a feverish pace in the OT, but came away with nothing with less than 2 minutes to go.

That’s when Bennett came through, as she tracked down a through-ball from defender Marisa Scullin. Bennett took control while heading to the sideline and then blasted a shot from 25 yards that just missed the outstretch hands of goalkeeper Alexis Carpenter (5 saves) and found the back corner of the net.

“The ball came out and I chested it to the left to get past the girls,” she said. “I shot it as I was falling and, as I fell on my stomach, I was hoping to get it in. I looked up and it just got over, and it was immediately tears of joy.”

The score sent Medina fans into frenzy.

In the overtime session, the Bees had three shots on goal and four corner kicks before eventually finding the back of the net.

“We just talked (in between regulation and overtime) like we did in the Copley game,” said Coreno, referring to Medina’s 3-2 OT win over the Indians for the Brunswick District crown. “I said, ‘You know what? This is it. This is our season. Are we going to practice tomorrow or are we going to turn in our uniforms tomorrow?’ And the girls came out and absolutely dominated in the overtime period.”

It was hard for the Bees to remain focused after near-misses in regulation by Brianna Shingary and Sydney Leckie, who both hit the post.

“We had a lot of corners in overtime and in the game, and we would have trouble getting them in,” Bennett said. “We we’re looking for that second ball, but we had trouble doing that and it would hit the post or the goalie was catching it all the time. It was so much happening, but I’m so happy right now.”

As she should be as her shot helped the Bees, who held Westlake (11-7-1) to just three shot attempts — none on goal — advance.

“I’m honestly speechless right now,” Bennett said. “I’m very emotional because I’m doing it for the girls. It meant so much — just that one goal.

“This just shows a lot about our team. I’m just so happy right now.”

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.