CORTLAND - After a four-week layoff due to injury, Lakeview's Jacob Colbrunn finally returned to the field for the Bulldogs, and that's not good news for the competition.
The senior defender started in Lakeview's 5-1 win over Niles in the sectional final Saturday night, helping to keep the Red Dragons in check throughout the match.
"It helps when you have a major piece of your puzzle healthy and playing," Lakeview coach Nate Mailach said. "Having Jake Colbrunn back in the lineup helps settle things down, and he gets everything started from the back.
"Having him out there made everybody's life a little bit easier tonight."
Along with his defensive play, the senior captain made his mark on the Bulldogs' (16-1) first goal.
Using some fancy dribbling skills, Lakeview's Jake Young blew through the Red Dragon (4-13-1) defense, forcing a Niles defender to take him down in the penalty box. Mailach and the Bulldogs called for Colbrunn to take the penalty, and he converted, sending goalkeeper Noah Arvin the wrong way.
"It felt great," Colbrunn said. "It felt good to be back on the field - good to play with the rest of the team again. It was really tough sitting on the bench (for four weeks)."
After that goal, Colbrunn left the offense to the state's leading scorer- Colton Ainsley.
The junior forward proceeded to record a hat-trick in 61 minutes of work. His first goal came in the 38th minute, with sophomore Matt Pasternak putting him on net using a cross. Sitting between two defenders, Ainsley took one touch and fired into the back of the net from 15 yards away.
Showing off his poaching skills, the junior's other two goals came early in the second half. In the 47th minute, Ainsley shot into the top of the net after the Niles defense couldn't clear a punch from Arvin.
Then, in the 61st minute, Ainsley completed his hat-trick when he picked up the ball left by a collision between two Niles defenders and a Bulldog and scored from just outside the box.
"We challenged (Ainsley) during our walkthrough to actually step his game up to the next level," Mailach said. "He did that tonight. He was on fire. Everything that came off his foot the ball was just smoking into the net. He was on top of his game for sure."
For Niles, the loss was a tough way to end the season, especially for a group of eight senior starters, but the Red Dragons did get a consolation goal in the 70th minute, with captain Chris Pack firing home from just inside the 18-yard box.
"In the three years as head (coach) and nine years I've been at Niles in general, they're probably the best collective group overall - not just as players," Niles coach Joshua MacMillan said. "They never stop. I'm really going to miss this group."
As for the Bulldogs, the winner of West Branch-Canfield awaits them at home Wednesday. Mailach said the team will get the best from either school.
"They're going to want to come at us," Mailach said. "Being the number-one seed, we have a little bit of a target on our back, but hopefully we'll be ready, up for the challenge."