MANSFIELD – The Flames earned a mulligan.
After coming agonizingly close to the school’s first-ever state championship a year ago, the Mansfield Christian boys soccer team finds itself in the same spot.
“It’s rare you get a second chance to finish what you started,” senior forward Brendan Ernsberger said, “so we have to finish it.”
Mansfield Christian lost 2-1 to Cincinnati Summit Country Day in last year’s Division III state final, but it returns to Columbus Crew Stadium Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for another shot.
“We all know what it feels like to lose, and I don’t think anyone wants to feel that again,” junior forward Brandon Mount said.
The seventh-ranked Flames will see top-ranked Grandview Heights for the championship. Heights dethroned the defending champs 2-0 in the other state semifinal final, while MCS took care of unranked Canfield South Range 4-0 Wednesday in Wadsworth. Both teams enter the final with 18-2-2 records.
“They’re a nice team,” Mansfield Christian coach Stephen Armstrong said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state and it shows. They got all the way to the state championship (match).”
This is the first trip to the state tournament for Grandview Heights, while the Flames have been to three Final Fours in the last four years.
“We haven’t been the team to win it yet,” Armstrong said. “We can be that team that is going to say as a senior class that I was at the state Final Four three years out of four or you can be the team that goes and wins it.”
Ernsberger said they felt at ease in the semifinals playing against a squad making its first appearance. He hopes to recapture that feeling in Columbus.
“I think it’s a calmness. We know what we have to do and we know what we want,” the senior captain said.
The Flames were at their best against South Range, dominating the ball with their foot skills and passing acumen.
“As we’ve been playing in the tournament it seems like we’ve really been clicking on offense and defensively too,” Mount said. “Everyone had the right attitude and mindset. We had the state championship in mind knowing we’re just one game away from playing in that game. Everyone wanted it badly.”
As they learned last year, winning a state championship isn’t easy. No one from northern Ohio has won it in boys Division III since Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in 2010.
“Any team that comes this far knows whoever they’re going to play, especially coming from that side of the bracket, is going to be pretty tough,” Armstrong said.
Mount said the attacking third of the Flames’ lineup will need to keep its composure, while the defense needs to be solid in front of sophomore keeper J.P. Trueblood.
“Anyone at this stage is going to be a great team,” Ernsberger said. “They’re ranked No. 1 in the state so that’s saying something. It’s going to take every single guy playing 80 minutes as hard as we can. It can’t be one or two guys. It’s got to be the while 22-man roster, everyone coming together and playing as a team.”
If the Flames can do that much, maybe they can take advantage of their mulligan.