Olentangy Liberty was strong to start its OHSAA state semifinal showdown, up 2-1 heading into the second period, but Toledo St. Francis DeSales went on an 8-2 scoring spree the rest of the way to nab a 9-4 win Saturday afternoon at Nationwide Arena.
The Knights (34-4-1), the top-seed from the Sylvania District, scored the game’s first goal 6:36 into the opening period as Ben Torchia, who finished with a hat trick, slipped a close-range shot past Patriot (27-9-1) goalie Eddie Arcy.
Liberty, still riding high off its Columbus District championship, answered in a blink as Chris Bergamesca tallied the equalizer just 20 seconds later to knot the game at 1-1.
Then, looking to continue to build momentum, the Patriots did just that as Ethan Hollingsworth gave his team its first lead 10:52 into the period, taking a feed from Alec Vidrick before finding the back of the net for a 2-1 Liberty lead — an advantage that held heading into the first intermission.
It was then, though, as the teams came out for the start of the second period, the Knights delivered a rude wake-up call, ending the Patriots’ season with an offensive explosion to over the course of the game’s final 30 minutes.
Tyler Murphy opened the surge with a quick goal just 1:30 into the second, taking a pass from Jake Wawrzyniak to hammer home the equalizer.
Six minutes later, Torchia scored the second of his trio of tallies to give St. Francis DeSales a lead it never relinquished.
Reid Kersey made it 4-2 Knights with 5:16 to go in the middle period before Jimmy Ruska got the Patriots back on track, deflecting a long Robert Koehler slap shot past St. Francis goaltender Thomas Kosinski to make a 4-3 contest with less than four minutes to go in the second. Koehler and Chris Bergamesca were credited with assists on the play.
The third period was all Knights, though, as they outscored the Patriots 5-1 in the game’s final 15 minutes to advance to Sunday’s state title tilt, which they won 2-1 in overtime over St. Edward.
Ruska scored Liberty’s late goal, with Chris Bergamesca and Noah Allmaras credited with assists, but five different St. Francis players — Nate Opblinger, Kersey, Murphy, Torchia and Trent Streichert — slammed the door once and for all with tallies of their own.
The Knights finished with 42 shot on goal, compared the Patriots’ 29. Arcy did what he could in the crease, making 33 saves in the loss, while Kosinski finished with 25 stops.
The loss was a singing one, but doesn’t diminish what Liberty accomplished this season, becoming the first Capital Hockey Conference team to win the league title, district title and Blue Jackets Cup. That and the fact the squad, of the 85 Ohio high schools with hockey programs, was among the state’s top four.