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Knights’ season comes to an end at hands of Blue Devils

Eisenhower’s Darren Glotz plays the ball in front of a Sharpsville defender during their District 10 Class 2A first round playoff game at War Memorial Field, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Sharpsville earned a 3-0 win over the Knights.

For all intents and purposes, Eisenhower boys soccer outplayed Sharpsville in nearly every facet of the game Monday night.

Unfortunately for the Knights, the Blue Devils had the lead where it mattered most.

On the scoreboard.

Noah Flaherty opened the scoring and Brayden Fry tacked on a pair in the second half as Sharpsville topped Eisenhower, 3-0, in their first round playoff match at War Memorial Field.

That’s not a typo.

Eisenhower’s Paul Thomas heads the ball in front of a Sharpsville defender during their District 10 Class 2A first round playoff game at War Memorial Field, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Sharpsville earned a 3-0 win over the Knights.

The match, originally scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. start at Eisenhower, was delayed by more than three hours and moved to War Memorial because the originally assigned officials were involved in a car accident on their way to the game. Eisenhower coach Todd Venman didn’t think the delay and change of venue played a role in the outcome.

“We came out pretty hot,” he said. “The team was pretty hyped up.”

The Knights controlled possession for most of the match and got some shots away, but all of them went right to the chest of Blue Devils keeper Fisher Kratko.

Eisenhower had a golden opportunity 13 minutes into the game.

Darren Glotz got the ball deep in the offensive zone and fired a crossing pass to Luke Smelko. Smelko fired and the shot tied up Kratko. The rebound bounced across the goalmouth and near a pair of Eisenhower players. They appeared to redirect the ball to the net, but it somehow stayed out and Kratko was able to recover.

Eisenhower’s Luke Smelko gets challenged by a Sharpsville defender during their District 10 Class 1A first round playoff game at War Memorial Field, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Sharpsville earned a 3-0 win over the Knights

A minute later, Sharpsville was on the board.

Carson Smith brought the ball up the field and passed to Flaherty. Flaherty made a move to get free then fired a shot to the far post that was just out of Gavin Labowski’s reach for a 1-0 lead.

“That took the wind out of our sails a bit,” Venman said.

“It changed the momentum in a heartbeat.”

Still, Eisenhower continued to press the attack but couldn’t solve Kratko and Sharpsvill had the 1-0 advantage at the half.

The second half was more even, but the Knights continued to hold a possession advantage.

With just over 21 minutes to play, Fry got the first of a pair of goals off free kicks. With the ball set near midfield, Fry launched a shot towards the goal. Labowski came out to play the bounce, but the ball sailed over his head an into the net to make it 2-0.

Four minutes later, Fry was at it again. This time the kick came from a few yards outside the box. Labowski appeared to have it lined up, but the ball slipped through his hands and trickled in for the third and final goal.

Eisenhower continued to fire shots at Kratko, but he had everything squared up.

“We just couldn’t find the back of the net,” Venman said. “Typically, we keep picking away. We outshot them for sure. We just couldn’t get it done.”

All this occurred after adjustments had to be made due to the officials’ accident – none were severly injured in the crash.

Eisenhower and Sharpsville athletic directors Jim Penley and Carla Hawthorne worked with their respective coaches, Venman and Dan Yargo, as well as District 10 Soccer Director Mike Piddington to find replacement officials. Unfortunately, those officials were coming from Erie and didn’t make it to Eisenhower until approximately 5:45 p.m. Even with shortened halves – both teams had agreed to play 30 minutes instead of 40 – all involved felt there was no way to get the match in before sunset. Warren athletic director Jeff White offered to stay after the Warren football junior varsity game, and the Warren Sports Boosters approved use of War Memorial Field and the match was moved.

A true show of cooperation and working together of all involved to get the match played Monday.

“We got it done,” Venman said.

Had an alternate location not been available, Sharpsville would have had to have made the 2-plus hour drive to Eisenhower again Tuesday.

The Blue Devils advance to take on Grove City in the D-10 quarterfinals Wednesday.

Eisenhower’s remarkable turnaround season came to an end, but Venman can see the program heading in the right direction going forward.

“We’ve broken some old patterns,” he said. “We lose eight seniors and that’s tough, but the younger players have seen what needs to be done.”

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