Cleveland Heights soccer coach Sean Sullivan is positively gushing these days.
And why shouldn’t he?
The Tigers went on the road and knocked off top seed and perennial powerhouse Mentor, 1-0, Wednesday evening and reached a Division I district final. This is the deepest the team has advanced into the postseason in six years.
Cornelius Pewu, who some might recall kicks for the football team, booted in the winning score 35 minutes into the first half for the Tigers (11-5-2). Andrew Bennett’s goalkeeping, fronted with a stout defense, kept the potent Cardinals’ attack from scoring.
In all his years at Cleveland Heights, Sullivan hadn’t defeated Mentor before Wednesday night.
“I have been with the program for 19 years, eight as an assistant and 11 as the head coach. This is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever been a part of. It’s definitely the biggest one of my head coaching career,” Sullivan said. “It’s a great feeling for the kids. They know what they have accomplished.”
The Tigers will host Mayfield, a 4-1 winner over Brush, for the right to go to the regional semifinals. The game will be played Saturday at Denison Park with a 7 p.m. start. It’s the first time Cleveland Heights has hosted the district final since 1998.
Cleveland Heights lost to Mayfield in last year’s district semifinal, but now’s clearly not the time to dwell on the past or worry about revenge.
“They played at the highest level and maintained that for 80 minutes,” Sullivan said. “And we thank all of the fans who came out to support us. That was really a big push for us to help us get through.”
The victory marks a remarkable turnaround for the soccer program. Last season, the team finished 8-10. This season, the team won the Lake Erie League with a perfect 6-0 record.
Such a remarkable turnaround also pairs with Sullivan receiving the Ron Pinsenschaum Award, the biggest honor the sport can bestow upon a coach in the state. It honors the coach who demonstrates the highest level of ethics and sportsmanship.
“I’m humbled by the honor,” Sullivan said.
Also, Desi Pelligree won All-Greater Cleveland second team honors, while teammates Pewu, Nick Bernard, Lucas Gonzalez and Kyle Finnegan earned honorable mention.