AKRON — The Great Wall of China was built to keep the feared Mongols from invading.
The wall the Cloverleaf girls’ soccer team employed Monday was to keep nationally ranked Hoban from scoring goals.
The strategy worked for the majority of the game, but, just like the Mongols, the Knights eventually found ways through the wall.
Hoban scored its first goal midway through the second half before the wall broke in a 4-0 Brunswick Division II District semifinal win.
The top-seeded Knights (16-0-2) advance to play St. Vincent-St. Mary on Thursday.
With the Knights coming into the game averaging 3.4 goals per game and fresh off a 9-0 win over Canton South, Cloverleaf (7-12) knew it would have its hands full.
“Obviously, Hoban is a great team,” Colts coach Guillermo Porras said. “They are the No. 1 in our district, and they’ve been scoring a lot of goals this year. Our plan was to take them as deep as possible, and we did that for almost 60 minutes.”
The Colts employed a defense-first game plan with 10 and frequently all 11 players pinched down within 15 yards of the goal. As a result, they played virtually the entire game in their own end.
“When a team stacks in like that, you just have to find that first goal,” Hoban coach Patrick Dobbins said. “Find the first goal and, as soon as you have that, they have to come out and play. I told them to be patient and it was going to take a special effort from someone and a special play to find the net.”
Katie Easton made that special play. She took a pass from Mykaela Zingale and finally got a ball past goalkeeper Katelyn Young (13 saves) from 10 yards with 22:36 left.
“Mykaela touched it across perfectly,” Easton said. “We have that connection on the field, and I just poked it in. We all came together and once we got the first goal that started the momentum for our team.”
Forced to try to generate some offense, the Colts’ back end opened up and the Knights started getting looks in front of the net.
Hoban started clicking and scored on its next three shots — each about 6 minutes apart.
Zingale potted the second goal when she took a pass from Sydney Huckabee and got free behind the Colts’ less-enforced wall with 15:11 to play.
“They were bunkering in the whole time until Katie scored,” Zingale said. “Once they started pushing out, we were able to start playing our type of game. I was lucky enough to get a nice cross from Syd, and I was able to tap it right in because they were pushed out.”
Huckabee got the third score at 9:13 and Kara Marshall made it four at 3:26. Both assists went to Olivia Pettit.
“With that first goal, we had to come out of our shell a little bit,” Porras said. “As soon as we did that, you saw what happened. They put three more goals on us. A lot of credit goes to them. They can finish.”
With the Colts so focused on defense, the team only managed one shot via a penalty kick from Lauren Gokey. Her 35-yard attempt went high and left.
Young, who pitched a pair of 1-0 shutouts in the first two postseason games, was again solid for Cloverleaf. With the strong play of defender Zana Ross mixed in, Cloverleaf has a solid backline to build on.
“Katelyn has had a phenomenal year all year,” Porras said. “She made some great saves that kept the score at 0-0. A lot of credit definitely goes to her and Zana Ross in the back. As freshmen, those two know each other well. They talk a lot, they communicate a lot, which has helped them keep the scores down back there.”
Contact Chad Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.