By Justin Haggerty
MUSKEGON – What a difference a year has made for the Muskegon Catholic soccer team.
But Coach Bill Moulatsiotis had a feeling that this year his team would have the experience to play with the strong teams in the district, like Western Michigan Christian and North Muskegon.
It turns out he was right.
The Crusaders avenged last year’s district loss to North Muskegon by beating the Norse 3-1 on Monday on their home field in a Division 4 quarterfinal game.
MCC, now 10-8-2, advances to Wednesday’s district semifinal against Walkerville at 5 p.m. at Western Michigan Christian High School.
North Muskegon, the runner-up in the West Michigan Conference this fall, finishes the season with an 11-12 record.
“Our district is really, really stout every year,” Moulatsiotis said. “It’s either us, WMC or North Muskegon, we battle it out every year in districts it seems like.
“We go back and forth, they get a year, we get a year, WMC gets a year, that’s ok with me.”
With a strong wind all night, it was difficult for either team to get any momentum going at the start of the game.
MCC got on the board first when North Muskegon was called for a foul in the box, resulting in a penalty kick.
Neil Kuharevicz took the shot low left to beat North Muskegon goalkeeper Ian Collins and the Crusaders led 1-0 with 32:37 to play in the first half.
Just 12 seconds later, at 32:25, the Norsemen answered right back when Justice Sikkema broke free down the left wing before centering to Spencer Mueller just in front of the goal line.
Mueller easily converted the goal, tying tame game at a goal apiece, which was the score at halftime.
“We talked at halftime about putting the ball on the floor, playing from the ground, don’t get a ball up into the wind,” Moulatsiotis said.
“Our passing and our movement was pretty good. I think our defense and (goalkeeper) Connor O’Neill kept us in the game the whole game. It could have gotten out of hand, if one or two of (North Muskegon’s) earlier shots go in and the entire game mood changes, the tempo changes.”
The Crusaders pulled ahead for good with 28:37 to play when sophomore Jose Zambrano made a clean centering pass at the 18 yard line to a waiting Jose Mojica, who dribbled the rest of the way through the defense and tapped the ball in give MCC the lead 2-1.
The final goal started when MCC’s Adam Gawron made a throw-in from the sideline to the middle of the box, where North Muskegon misplayed it and Evan Morse was waiting to slam it in from the right wing.
“It’s been our struggle all year, getting clean (clearing attempts) out of the back,” said North Muskegon Coach Jeremy Tjapkes. “It’s I guess kind of fitting that that’s how we lose our season. A couple bad clears out of the back and not aggressive enough out there.
“We never really gained clear possession this year in the field. If you’re not going to possess and hold the ball, you’re just giving the other team more opportunities to come at you. That was kind of our issue all year, not being able to retain possession.”