By Ron Rop

EAST KENTWOOD – It took 80 minutes of regulation, a pair of 10-minute overtimes and a shootout to decide which team would head to the Division 4 state soccer finals.LSJ Logo incert

When all was said and done, the Kalamazoo Hackett Irish punched their ticket to the finals with a 2-1 victory over the Western Michigan Christian Warriors in the state semifinals at Crestwood Middle School.

No. 11 Dylan Mines looks to control the ball for WMC. Photo/Randy Riksen

No. 11 Dylan Mines looks to control the ball for WMC. Photo/Randy Riksen

The Irish will take on undefeated Genesee Christian, a 2-1 winner over top-ranked Lansing Christian in the other semifinal. That game will be played Saturday either at Comstock Park or Brighton.

“What a relief,” said Irish coach Ian Troutman. “Hats off to WMC, they played their schematics, everything, the way they move the ball. They made it really challenging for us.”

In a game in which goals were hard to come by, it was the Irish that needed just 20 seconds to get on the board. Hackett senior Kieran O’Brien launched a shot from about 35 yards out that sailed toward the Warrior net. The ball appeared to not only hit goalkeeper Chris Visser’s hands, but also graze the underside of the crossbar.

It took the Warriors 15 minutes to earn the tying goal. The play started off innocently when senior Will Deur sent a long, bouncing ball from the WMC end of the field. Warrior sophomore Evan Fles battled an Irish defender for the ball, and when goalkeeper Matthew Carpenter was caught out of position, Fles rolled the ball into the net.

That would be the final goal of regulation and the two overtimes, although both teams had some quality scoring chances.

With 12:40 remaining in regulation, Warrior keeper Michael Merz, who took over in the second half, kept his team alive when he stopped a hard shot by Irish leading scorer Will Knoll.

Tommy TenCate tries to chase down the loose ball in WMC's shootout loss to Kalamazoo Hacket. PHoto/Randy Riksen

Tommy TenCate chases down the loose ball in WMC’s shootout loss to Kalamazoo Hackett. Photo/Randy Riksen

In the game’s final minutes, WMC sophomore Tyler VanBeek had a good look at the net, but his shot sailed just over the crossbar.

In the first overtime it appeared the Warriors had the better of the chances, but could not score. Merz made a strong save in the final minute of the first extra session.

Then came the shootout, and it looked promising for WMC when Deur scored and Merz stopped the first Irish shooter. But when the final Warrior shot went just wide of the net, Hackett had a 3-2 advantage in the shootout and a 2-1 victory on the scoreboard.

“We got here on a (penalty kick) shootout,” WMC coach David Hulings said regarding his team’s victory in the regional finals. “So you live by it, you die by it. We played two really good teams in the region that could have been here as well.

“I think I let my team down the way I coached tonight,” Hulings added. “I should have done better. This is on me as a coach. It should not have gotten to PKs. I had some adjustments I could have made and I didn’t make them.”

Hulings said he should have prepared his team to attack on combination play because “we played too many balls up top and they were ready for that. I needed to make that adjustment and I didn’t.”

“When they tied it back up again, it was just punch after punch –  it was like a heavyweight fight,” Troutman said. “They put one on goal, we’d put one on goal. Guys were tired, but guys were fighting and pulled out everything and left it all on the field.”

The setback means the Warriors have now gone four seasons without an appearance in the state finals. But, with a young team, the future appears bright.

“We’ve got some really great kids coming up,” Hulings said. “I had six sophomores and a freshman on the field at one time tonight and that’s when I thought we were controlling the game.”