No. 7 Bears to face top-ranked Troy in district finals
BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
TROY — In sports it is often said that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships.
Berkley has a boys soccer team riding both of those waves this season and is hoping to cash in on some hardware in the near future.
The Division 1 seventh-ranked Bears posted another win over a quality opponent Tuesday, taking advantage of a couple of chances and holding off fifth-ranked Troy Athens in a district semifinal clash of the titans at Athens.
Berkley, which has joined Athens as a staple in the D-1 state rankings over the past decade, again used its stingy defense to keep the district host Red Hawks at bay for most of the game. Senior midfielder Andriy Bilous scored twice for the Bears, who advance to the district finals 7 p.m. Thursday against top-ranked Troy.
The Colts defeated Royal Oak in the second game Tuesday night, 5-2.
Berkley has outscored the opposition 57-8 this season over 23 games with 17 shutouts and two weekend tournament titles – and needed every bit of its energy to record its seventh win of the season over a state-ranked program.
“I thought we left a couple on the table tonight. We could have made it three, four at the half,” offered Berkley coach Steve Wloszek, who has gradually built the Bears into a perennial state program over his 13 years at the helm. “But (Athens) gave us a hell of a game. It was a fun, back and forth match, and I thought we did a great job. We had the better chances, I thought, throughout the game. But they’re a solid program and we’re fortunate to get past them and go on to the next one.”
With five schools from the OAA Red Division finishing the regular season ranked in the top 10 in the state in the MIHSSCA state rankings – scoring chances and goals are at a premium whenever each of these schools hook up for a battle. The same was expected in this clash of top 10 teams.
Berkley posted a 15-10 total shots edge, including 8-5 with shots on frame, and also held a 3-1 advantage on cornerkicks. The Bears claimed to be the more opportunistic side thanks to the efforts of Bilous, a Division I and Division II college recruit who was named All-State Second Team last season.
Bilous scored the game’s first goal with 13:30 left in the first half. Taking a touch from junior forward Owen Stone, Bilous turned and uncorked a low shot that snuck inside the post from 21 yards out for the 1-0 advantage.
With 16:40 remaining in the second half, Bilous converted the eventual game-winner off a pass from senior midfielder Chase McAvoy. Off a counterattack, McAvoy slipped a perfectly-slotted ball to Bilous, who blasted home his shot from 19 yards in front of the goal and past the outstretched arms of Athens 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Andrew Graziosi.
Athens, which did not attempt a shot over the first 25 minutes of the second half, finally got untracked and began to mount some pressure on the Bears’ backline. The attack paid off when junior forward Adriano Shauya converted a short-range goal with 1:27 remaining in the contest. The Red Hawks (12-5-2) ran out of time before they could net an equalizer.
“We had some chances, especially in the first half or late in the game. We had some shots go wide or over or right at their keeper,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh, whose program captured the D-1 state title in 2019. “Our end product wasn’t good enough, and you’ve got to be good enough in a state tournament game with your end product. Our chances didn’t go in and theirs did. We did alright competing. They’re bigger than us. They’re stronger than us. They’re faster than us. Their shots went in and ours didn’t.”
There’s little time to celebrate a win over a fellow top-10 team, as Berkley (20-2-1) must quickly turn its attention to Troy, which also defeated Berkley 1-0 back on Sept. 8. Troy is the two-time OAA Red Division champion, reached the regional finals last season, and has a 35-2-4 record over the past two seasons.
Wloszek is hoping Berkley’s stingy defense can keep Troy’s offensive firepower at bay while taking advantage of its scoring opportunities.
“That’s just how Berkley plays. We’re a defensive team first, and that’s kind of gotten us to where we are over the past 10, 15 years,” smiled Wloszek, who noted having a pair of fourth-year varsity veterans anchoring the backline. “The back line was tremendous today. We have two senior captains leading our back line, and they were almost flawless today.
“We hope to get the same result against Troy,” added Wloszek, whose team has now reached the district finals in nine of the last 11 seasons. “We’re excited just to be in another district championship. The boys are experienced in this (playing in high level games). We’re almost expecting to get here every year. We’re excited for our next opponent.”