The DeSales High School boys soccer team is no stranger to state tournaments, having qualified nine times since 2007 and 18 times overall.
The Stallions enjoyed the moment Nov. 3 after defeating Athens 5-1 in a Division II regional final at Logan, celebrating at the center of the field with the regional championship trophy and even ringing the stadium's victory bell as they drew within two wins of their fourth state title in five years.
Even so, DeSales treated this week as if it consisted of just one game, a state semifinal Nov. 7 against Cincinnati Summit Country Day at Xenia, instead of potentially two contests.
"For us now, it's a one-game season," coach Domenic Romanelli said. "We don't even talk about (the final); we talk about just what we have to do in getting there."
The Stallions put a nine-game winning streak on the line against Summit Country Day, which is in its first season in Division II after winning the past three Division III state championships.
Mike Cockerell's three goals -- his second hat trick in as many games -- and an assist powered DeSales past Athens and improved the Stallions to 18-3. The senior midfielder converted a penalty kick exactly 10 minutes into the game after Cristian Gomez was fouled, scored on a rebound off a free kick 23 seconds into the second half to make it 3-0 and scored his third goal about 20 minutes after that.
Cockerell also assisted on Alessandro Conte's header off a corner kick with 20:15 left.
"We take it one game at a time here in this program. We treat every game like it's our last," said Cockerell, who takes all of DeSales' penalty kicks. "We came out knowing that at any moment, that could be it. We put it all on the field. If we do that every game, we feel like we'll end up at Mapfre Stadium (for the state final Saturday, Nov. 10)."
Josh Conroy scored DeSales' other goal with 13:30 left in the first half, firing a shot into the left corner of the net past diving Bulldogs goalkeeper Finn Mitchell.
"I got the ball, it bounced out and I moved to give myself a little space," Conroy said. "I hit it as close as I could to the far post. Their goalie didn't see it because of a big group of guys (in front). It was a hard shot to the backside. There wasn't much he could have done about it."
Not only did Romanelli want to see more energy from his team in the state tournament, but he and the players are not shy about voicing their expectations.
"Our guys have a comfort zone and sometimes it's hard to push them that extra little bit. I don't think that (would) be a problem (against Summit Country Day)," Romanelli said. "We all dreamed at the beginning of the summer that anything short of the (state tournament) would be a disappointment, so we wanted to get to this point."
DeSales advanced to the regional final by routing Warsaw River View 9-1 in a semifinal Oct. 31 at Coshocton. Cockerell scored three goals and Cristian Gomez added two as the Stallions built on a 3-1 halftime lead with six unanswered goals in the second half.
The DeSales-Summit Country Day winner will play Bay Village Bay or Richfield Revere in the state final.
The Stallions defeated Bay 3-0 on Aug. 25 and Revere 1-0 on Sept. 8 and also beat Bay in the 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2017 state finals. The Stallions and Rockets -- whose coach, Bobby Dougherty, is a longtime friend of Romanelli and a one-time club teammate -- have played each other early in the regular season for the past several years.
"We know if we can get to the state championship, we generally don't lose there," Conroy said. "Just getting there is the biggest thing. That's the hardest part there is."