The Hartley High School boys soccer team would have liked a better start, but there's something to be said for strong finishes.
After opening with a 2-1 win over Watkins Memorial on Aug. 21, the Hawks lost their next nine games before beating Centennial 1-0 on Sept. 22.
That victory began a stretch in which Hartley went 6-1-1, including a 2-1 upset of third-seeded Walnut Ridge in a second-round Division II district tournament road game.
The 11th-seeded Hawks played top-seeded Bexley in a district semifinal Oct. 23, with the winner to play fourth-seeded DeSales or Heath for a district championship at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Westerville North.
"It's been a real up-and-down season," coach Chris Kowalski said. "We definitely peaked at the right time. In the end it counts how you're playing in October."
The finish is reminiscent of last season, when Hartley overcame a 1-6-3 start to close the regular season on a six-game winning streak. The Hawks lost to Big Walnut 2-1 in a district semifinal to go 9-7-2 overall.
Hartley, which was 7-10-1 before playing Bexley in a rematch of a regular-season game it lost 2-0 on Oct. 13, took a 1-0 lead over Walnut Ridge when Jason Endress knocked in a shot during the first three minutes off a corner from Miles Cervi.
The Scots tied it up in the sixth minute, but Cervi scored the winner with 10 minutes left before halftime.
According to Kowalski, the play of Stuart Burkett and Jacob Smith has been among the keys to the run. Also helping is that Cervi has made a seamless transition from midfielder to sweeper.
"Jacob Smith and Stu Burkett are seniors who man our midfield, and they've solidified our play there," Kowalski said.
"We had to switch Miles Cervi to sweeper at midseason and our defense has been pretty much lights-out since then. We've just been playing great defense. It's just been a matter of finishing."