By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Catholic soccer team is obviously not happy to be winless.

But the young Crusaders have good reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season, following Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Ludington on their home field.

MCC's Jose Zambrano looks to control the ball away from Ludington's Luke Snyder. Photo/Jason Goorman

MCC’s Jose Zambrano looks to control the ball away from Ludington’s Luke Snyder. Photo/Jason Goorman

Zac Schoon scored the winning goal for Ludington with 5:35 left in the second overtime period.

MCC came into the game 0-3, with the added problem of having a very young team. Fifteen of the 26 players on the Crusader roster are freshmen or sophomores.

That didn’t bode well for the first Lakes Conference game in school history, against a more experienced Ludington squad.

“We were a little bit worried coming in, especially with us having basically a (junior varsity age) roster,” said MCC Coach Bill Moulatsiotis, who said his team played its best game of the season thus far. “Our guys wanted it real bad. Nobody likes to lose four in a row.”

Moulatsiotis’ fears might have come true if it weren’t for the play of sophomore goalkeeper Connor O’Neill. The first-year starter had an outstanding game, stopped 11 of 12 shots in regulation and two of three shots in overtime.

“I can’t say enough about the way Connor played,” Moulatsiotis said. “He really kept us in the game, making save after save. Any time a goalie makes save after save in soccer, it really energizes the entire team.

“Our defensive line really played great, as well. Now we just have to work on getting the ball into the back of the net. Our finishing (offensive attacks) has a ways to go yet.”

Erik VanFossen goes in for the shot on the loose ball in front of Ludington goalie Ben Strbich. Photo/Jason Goorman

Erik VanFossen goes in for the shot in front of Ludington goalie Ben Strbich. Photo/Jason Goorman

O’Neill’s first half saves – along with a little luck when a Ludington shot hit a sidebar of the goal – allowed MCC to make it to halftime with a 1-0 deficit.

Ludington’s Andreas Tietz scored the lone goal of the first half with about 10 minutes remaining.

The Crusader offense regrouped and put more pressure on Ludington goalkeeper Ben Strbich in the second half.

MCC tied the score with 10:41 left when freshman Jose Mojica’s shot from about 20 yards out hit a sidebar and bounced in the goal.

O’Neill made a number of outstanding saves in the final few minutes of regulation, including a diving stop as time expired, to force overtime play.

The first 10 minute overtime period was scoreless. The game looked like it was headed to a shootout finish before Schoon’s goal settled the issue.

The Crusaders fought hard to the end. Senior Erik VanFossen fired a strong penalty kick from about 15 yards out with 16 seconds remaining, but Strbich made the save to preserve the victory.

Ludington Coach Tim Bryant was happy with his team’s performance, particularly since leading scorer David Ridder was out with a leg injury.

“(Ridder) brings a lot of speed, so it hurt us a bit to not have him out there,” said Bryant, whose team improved to 3-0-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play. “But (MCC’s O’Neill) played a really good game today.

“You want to see your team tested early in the season, to see what they’re made of. Sometimes this early the goals don’t come so easy. You have to work for them sometimes, and we worked for them tonight.”