Re­gional semi­fi­nals for Di­vi­sions II, III are here

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - SPORTS -

The Avon Lake Shore­men get Re­gion 6 top dog Toledo Cen­tral Catholic, while Avon faces un­de­feated White­house An­thony Wayne and Rocky River con­tin­ues its path as an eighth seed through Re­gion 10.

Avon Lake’s only slip up this sea­son was a Week 9 loss to South­west­ern Con­fer­ence foe Olm­sted Falls, but the team wasn’t go­ing to be caught off guard a sec­ond time around.

The Shore­men avenged their lone reg­u­lar-sea­son loss Nov. 2 in a 44-28 rout of the ri­val Bull­dogs, thanks in large part to what head coach Matt Kostel­nik said is bet­ter prepa­ra­tion on his end and fi­nally see­ing a swag­ger he and his staff have worked to in­still all sea­son.

“The first time around, it prob­a­bly was my fault,” Kostel­nik said of the Week 9 loss to Olm­sted Falls. “The scheme wasn’t as sound as it could’ve been, but the kids played with a lot more con­fi­dence this time around.

“The big­gest thing with our kids is, ‘Are they con­fi­dent in the scheme they’re do­ing?’ And that starts with coach­ing. We matched Falls’ in­ten­sity, but it was my fault for not in­still­ing con­fi­dence.”

Whether it was a lack of con­fi­dence or an un­fa­mil­iar­ity with the game plan, even the play­ers felt like a lot of points were left on the field in the loss and were de­ter­mined to get them all back and then some.

Once the Shore­men got back to what they feel they do best, it was like Olm­sted Falls never had a chance.

“I felt a lot more com­fort­able with what we were do­ing sec­ond time around,” Kostel­nik said. “It was about, ‘Hey, let’s line up, let’s be us, force ball to edges and use speed.’ If they beat us pass­ing, they’re the bet­ter team, but at least we’re dic­tat­ing what they’re do­ing.”

Now Avon Lake is back in a re­gional semi­fi­nal for the first time since 2016 and the fourth time since 2007. But the re­ward for ad­vanc­ing in the play­offs is a date with the No. 2 team in the AP Divi­sion II Poll: Toledo Cen­tral Catholic.

The Fight­ing Ir­ish (110) are a pow­er­house pro­gram in ev­ery sense of the phrase. They’ve ad­vanced to the state tour­na­ment the past four sea­sons, with their most re­cent cham­pi­onship in 2014, and they won an­other state ti­tle in 2012. This sea­son, Cen­tral Catholic looks as dom­i­nant as ever.

Op­po­nents are av­er­ag­ing a mere 4.3 points per game while the Ir­ish of­fense av­er­ages 42.8 points. Find­ing holes in the smoth­er­ing Cen­tral Catholic de­fense is the main fo­cus of prac­tice this week in Avon Lake.

“We just have to be on the at­tack,” Kostel­nik said. “We have to take ad­van­tage of matchups. Those are the kind of things (Cen­tral Catholic thrives) on. They rely on de­fense to wreak havoc, so we have to limit that, don’t give them any­thing cheap and make them earn their scores.

“The big­gest thing is un­der­stand­ing the task in front of them. Cen­tral Catholic is a great pro­gram, a great team, but so are we. We have to match their in­ten­sity and match them up front.”

The Shore­men are tak­ing time to en­joy the fact they’re prac­tic­ing while most teams in Ohio have had their locker rooms cleaned out for a week at this point, but it’s not just about be­ing happy to be here. There’s still a game to play, and that con­fi­dence built up af­ter a dom­i­nat­ing first-round win can’t wa­ver against ar­guably the tough­est op­po­nent Avon Lake will see thus far.

“Be­ing able to cre­ate the matchups we want is go­ing to be a top pri­or­ity, get­ting the un­usual matchups,” Kostel­nik said. “From there, let’s rock and roll and bring the house. We still have to run the ball. We’re a run­ning team this week, and we have to es­tab­lish the run.

“They’re ex­cited to be where we’re at, and I’m ex­cited to be where we’re at. We’re en­joy­ing it, but we still have a job Fri­day night. It’s awe­some to be where we are, but we have to take care of busi­ness Fri­day or we’ll be on wrong side of rough game.”

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