WADSWORTH — Experience told the North Royalton boys soccer team not to freak out, and the Bears held firm Tuesday in a heated Suburban League National Conference match with Wadsworth.
A year ago, a late goal lifted the Bears over the eventual league champion. Things looked eerily similar this time around, as North Royalton walked out of Art Wright Memorial Stadium with a 1-0 win.
Last season, the Grizzlies came in ranked fourth in the state coaches poll and lost 2-1. This time a goal by A.C. Compan with 17:46 remaining put the No. 14 Bears (7-0-1, 3-0-1) ahead and keeper Nick Mark kept Wadsworth (5-4, 2-2) out of the net.
“Last year, Wadsworth was the fourth team in the state,” Compan said. “We knew this game was important because we want to be in the top 10 state rankings. It’s great to come out with a win.
“I saw Hayden (Haffner) shoot and the goalie moved to his right, so the left side was open. I went left and it went in. It was a sigh of relief and joy.”
It was also validation for a hard-earned victory.
North Royalton peppered Grizzlies keeper Connor Margo for eight shots, but the junior thwarted opportunity after opportunity.
The Bears had three one-on-ones with Margo, who shut down the first two. The third got the best of him, as he made the initial save, but the ball squirted to Compan at the top of the box.
“It’s definitely disappointing given the circumstances,” Margo said. “Considering our result from Saturday, a 5-1 loss to Wooster, I think it’s a brilliant way to bounce back. We tried some different chances and it worked well for us. We had injuries all over the field. We’re proud with what they did.”
Brecksville’s 2-1 win over Nordonia kept North Royalton tied with the Bees (5-0-4, 3-0-1) atop the conference and put a serious dent in Wadsworth’s odds of repeating.
For the Grizzlies, the night was more about persevering and prepping for the future. David Chirumbole and Seth Beldean came in banged up and Mason Warholic and Brayden Humphrey had to leave the game.
“We definitely learn from this one,” Grizzlies midfielder Kai Wagner said. “Our coach (John Johnson) said he’s OK with this one win, lose or draw as long as we play the right way. Our game against Wooster was definitely a rough one, and we bounced back well from that game.
“Using this momentum of good play that we just displayed, we can use it to get some good training sessions in and give opponents some good competition.”
Despite the loss, the highlight of the night came from Humphrey, Warholic, Owen Porpora, Nick Young and Jacob Jones on the backline. The Bears held a three-shot advantage and blitzed Wadsworth with nine corner kicks, but came up empty-handed all but once.
With a rough-and-tumble district coming up in less than a month, it’s games like Tuesday that will help.
“You see we’re dropping like flies,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t clear that ball, but I’ll tell you what, we had chances against the No. 2 team out of Cleveland and No. 14 team in the state.
“To lose 1-0, I can deal with losing if we’re trying to do the right things. I can handle that. I love these guys. I’m proud. That defense was the best I’ve seen this year.”
North Royalton 1, Wadsworth 0
NORTH ROYALTON 0 1 — 1
WADSWORTH 0 0 — 0
N — A.C. Compan, 17:46.
Shots on goal — North Royalton 8, Wadsworth 5. Corner kicks — North Royalton 9, Wadsworth 1. Saves — Connor Margo (W) 7, Nick Mark (N) 5, Nick Evanko (N) 0. Records — North Royalton (7-0-1, 3-0-1), Wadsworth (5-4, 2-2). Junior varsity — North Royalton 1, Wadsworth 0.