The Cardinals won, 2-1, to advance to their second state tournament.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANTON -- Kiki Willis stood outside the locker room Saturday at Central Catholic High when a girl approached him and asked for his autograph.
Willis, a senior forward on the Cardinal Mooney High boys soccer team, gladly obliged. After all, this was a day of celebration for the Cardinals.
Willis scored two goals, one on a pressure-packed assist from freshman Scott Blasko, as Mooney rallied for a 2-1 victory over Walsh Jesuit in the Division II regional final.
"I thought about it weeks before, that if we go to the playoffs and the regional finals, we're definitely going to have to play Walsh," Willis said. "We were saying that this is the state championship game."
Taking the state stage
Motivated by their match-up against the state-power Warriors (16-2-2), Mooney (19-1-1) advanced to its second state tournament. The Cardinals won the 2002 championship.
In the state semifinals Tuesday at Canton Central Catholic High, Mooney will meet Richfield Revere (13-5-2), which defeated Akron Hoban 2-1 Saturday.
"What a great ride," said Mooney coach Len Krispinsky, wet after his players drenched him with water. "It's a tribute to their no-quit attitude and athleticism."
Mooney was in danger of having its season end, falling behind 1-0 minutes into the second half.
"With the young kids that we have, I think they were a little nervous coming in," Krispinsky said.
But with 23 minutes remaining, Willis energized the Cardinals by drawing a penalty kick. He dribbled into the box before being upended by a Walsh Jesuit defender.
"I put the ball ahead of him and myself so he would have to play me," Willis said.
Willis converted the penalty kick, tying the score and giving Mooney a fresh outlook.
"It lifted the whole team," Willis said. "After that goal, everyone pulled together and we just started playing well."
Back for more
Feeding off their tying goal, the Cardinals went ahead for good with just under 15 minutes to play when the young Blasko found Willis on a crossing pass from the left.
"I was running across the field and all I heard was his name," Blasko said. "So I crossed it over with my left foot."
Willis added, "I was running from about 15 yards away and I saw him in the open. So I just yelled for the ball. Luckily, he looked up and played it."
Blasko is one of the Cardinals' first players off the bench, Krispinsky said.
"He always brings something extra to the team," the coach added. "He always adds a little bit of fire in there and he brings a little bit of excitement to the game."
On the pass from Blasko, Willis surged ahead to meet the ball on the right side and kicked it past the Walsh Jesuit goalkeeper for the game-winner.
"I don't know how I got there so fast," Willis said. "I guess it was just that adrenaline that's flowing."
The frustrated Warriors lost their composure in the waning minutes. They were red-carded twice -- the first when a forward bulled into Mooney senior goalkeeper Jeff Seddon. That play drew the second card on one of Walsh Jesuit's coaches for arguing.
Seddon played a strong game in goal for the Cardinals, getting his hands on numerous balls played into the area by the attacking Warriors.