By Justin Haggerty
NORTON SHORES – The Grand Haven soccer program has dominated the local Division 1 soccer scene in recent years.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Bucs had won a D1 district championship for five straight years, meaning their 12 seniors had advanced to regionals each year of their high school careers.
The Bucs finish the season with a 14-5-3 record. Union advances to Tuesday’s regional semifinals in Holt against Traverse City West.
“For us it’s disappointing to lose, obviously, but we’ve got to be proud of what we’ve done this season,” said Grand Haven Coach Aaron Dean.
“At this point, we’re sad for the seniors. Those guys left their hearts on the field. The seniors who didn’t play as much certainly did the work at practice every day. Those are the guys that we love and we care about, we would have loved to win with, but more than anything you end up missing those guys.”
The teams battled to a scoreless first half despite each having several scoring chances.
Both coaches made adjustments at halftime and the intensity increased in the second half.
Less than two minutes in, Grand Haven junior Connor Lund converted from the left wing to give the Bucs a 1-0 lead.
Grand Haven senior Ethan King earned a penalty kick three minutes later when Union goalkeeper Jesus Ramirez came out to challenge the striker and was injured in the process.
Union backup keeper Tony Aguero entered the net off the bench to face the penalty kick. King had no problem blasting it past the cold netminder and giving the Bucs a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the second half.
Ramirez re-entered the game immediately after the goal.
In the 12th minute, Union forward Adrian Perez sped past the Grand Haven defense down the right wing and centered the ball to Luis Gustavo Lopez. Grand Haven keeper Jake Thayer made the initial save, but Lopez converted on the rebound to cut the Buc lead to 2-1.
The score remained that way for the next 20 minutes before Union was awarded a penalty kick from just outside the box.
Union’s Serge Mwembo scored on the shot to tie the game 2-2 with less than eight minutes to play in regulation.
“They battled, I’ll give them a lot of credit,” Dean said about Union. “We got up two and they did not give up. They got one back and it really turned into a game.”