STRONGSVILLE — Throughout the season, the Aurora boys soccer team has taken down one mighty goliath after another.
On Wednesday, the Greenmen took on an opponent that wasn’t ranked in the state for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Unfortunately, that unranked team turned out to be the one squad that finally solved Aurora this postseason.
The Greenmen’s glorious 2017 season came to a close after losing to Bay Village Bay 2-1 in a Division II state semifinal game at Strongsville High School’s Pat Catan Stadium.
The Rockets scored two goals in the first eight-plus minutes off the second half before Aurora (14-4-4) got on the board 10 minutes later.
The Greenmen made a furious push in the final minutes, but somehow, some way, Bay was able to fend off the hard-charging Aurora attackers time and time again.
"It’s just unfortunate," second-year Greenmen head coach Jason Bibza said. "We had our chances. They played a heck of a game."
The Greenmen seemed to have the advantage in the first 40 minutes.
Aurora was on the attack for a majority of the way, but the Greenmen couldn’t find the net.
The game changed early in the second half. A little more than two minutes after halftime, Aurora was called for a tripping foul inside the box. Sophomore midfielder Kyle Cusimano took the kick and drilled a bullet into the right corner of the net.
Although Greenmen senior goalkeeper Robby Albrecht guessed right, he was just a millisecond too late.
Bay (17-4-1), winners of 16 straight games, found an extra gear with that newfound momentum.
The Rockets, who showed some stellar one-touch passing in the second half, made it 2-0 when sophomore forward Nico Saiz played a perfect through ball to the right side of Aurora’s penalty box.
Senior forward Noah Beck retrieved the pass and booted a hard shot into the left side of the net.
That gave the Rockets a 2-0 lead with a little less than 32 minutes remaining in the game.
The Greenmen struck at the 21-minute, 51-second mark.
This time, Bay was called for a hand ball in its own box to give Aurora a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Nathan Malinowski blasted the kick into the middle of the net as Rockets’ senior goalkeeper Brent Hull moved to his left as the shot was taken.
"I told the kids, ‘They got a PK and we got a PK,’" Bibza said. "It evened out. You don’t want to leave it in the hands of the officials."
The Greenmen had some chances late. Senior midfielder Rees Jones had a shot go just wide on a breakaway moments after Malinowski’s goal.
It could have been worse for Aurora.
Beck had a shot from point-blank range go off the hands of Albrecht and over the goal.
The Greenmen (14-4-4) made a furious charge in the final minutes, but a wall of Bay defenders always seemed to be in Aurora’s way.
"We pushed at the end," Bibza said. "We created some chances and we were very close. But close doesn’t count."
Despite the loss, it was quite a year for the Greenmen.
They captured their first-ever Suburban League American Conference title and earned two wins over Revere, which was ranked No. 1 in the Division II state poll during the regular season. They also claimed victories over state-ranked powers Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and Warren Howland.
Those wins led Aurora to its first appearance in the state semifinals since 2012, when the Greenmen played Division I schools.
"It was a fantastic season," Bibza said. "I hope they don’t hang their heads at all. We had a wonderful crowd of supporters, and the kids represented their parents, the community and Aurora City Schools."
The Rockets had a 7-4 advantage in shots on goal and a 4-2 edge in corner kicks. Albrecht made five saves, and Hull stopped three Aurora shots.
Bibza said goodbye to 12 seniors, including nine starters. They are Albrecht; Malinowski; Jones; forwards Dan French, Mike French, Ramy Hassan and Cade Huffman; and defenders Cooper Devins, Alec Besinger, Andrew Sobodosh and Avery McMaster. The other senior was Timothy Werfel.
"These guys set the goal and they chased after the goal," Bibza said. "There was a lot to celebrate this season."