By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – A tie would have done the Mona Shores soccer team no good at all.
The Sailors squared off against Grand Rapids Union Thursday with the O-K Black Conference championship on the line.
But Mona Shores had the bigger burden, because it had a tie on its conference record. That left Union a half game ahead in the standings, so a deadlock between the teams would have given the title to the Red Hawks.
But Mona Shores’ Destin Morley made sure that didn’t happen. The junior defender headed a lofting free kick from teammate Christian Zurchauer into the Union goal midway through the second overtime, giving the Sailors a 1-0 victory and their second straight O-K Black title.
“I just jumped up, headed it and the goalie couldn’t stop it,” said Morley, who was in a crowd of players in front of the net when he scored. “At first I didn’t think it went in, then I looked up and saw the goalie tip it in.
“It felt pretty good. A tie wouldn’t have won us conference. We needed to win.”
Mona Shores finished the regular season 12-5-1 overall and 7-2-1 in the conference.
Few observers expected another championship for the Sailors this season. They lost 13 seniors from last year’s title squad and had to battle through their share of tight games this fall with a lot of new starters.
“This group has grit,” said Mona Shores Coach Jeremy Leffring. “We’ve been down in several games and come back. This team has a lot of fire. They’re starting to believe they can beat any team.”
Thursday’s regular season finale was expected to be close. Union beat Mona Shores earlier this season 4-3 in double overtime, and there was no reason to believe the rematch would be different, particularly with the title on the line.
The teams played two fast, physical halves and one 10 minute overtime period without a score.
As the clock wound down in the second overtime, it started to appear Union would claim the trophy with a tie.
But Mona Shores started to mount more offense toward the end of the contest, after Leffring adjusted his strategy to put an extra attacker up front.
“With 10 minutes left in the second half I moved a midfielder up and went 3-5-2, and to start the second overtime we went 3-4-3,” Leffring said. “We started to get more going after that. Both teams stayed in the midfield most of the night. There weren’t that many shots. We couldn’t get behind their defense.”
The Sailors were threatening near the Union goal when a yellow card infraction on a Red Hawk player set up the free kick and winning goal.
The Red Hawks were haunted with penalties all night, collecting an unusually high six yellow cards for various infractions.
Zurchauer, who assisted on the winning goal after drawing the final penalty, credited his teammates with keeping their heads as the game got rough.
“There were lot of tackles, elbows, throws and kicks,” the senior captain said. “The refs were not calling most of them. I just told my teammates to calm down, that we’d been through this before and pulled it off.”
Leffring declined to criticize Union’s style of play, despite the six infractions.
“Both teams played hard,” he said. ”I didn’t see anything dirty. I would just say they played as hard as they possibly could, sometimes got a step behind and still went after the ball. I don’t think anybody intended to hurt anybody.”