By Steve Gunn

FRUITPORT – The Grand Haven boys soccer team has been very good all year, posting a sparkling 13-3-3 record in the regular season.

But the Bucs had the extra challenge of playing in the very tough O-K Red Conference, where they finished in third place behind champion East Kentwood and Caledonia.

So the state tournament is a brand new opportunity for the Bucs, and they started it off on the right foot on Tuesday with a 5-1 victory over Mona Shores in a Division 1 district quarterfinal game, which was played at Fruitport High School due to wet field conditions at Mona Shores.

Grand Haven now advances to the district semifinals on Thursday against Holland West Ottawa on the Panthers’ home field.

“It’s a tough league,” Grand Haven Coach Aaron Dean said about the O-K Red. “We got about halfway into the season and realized we shot ourselves in the foot a few times. We had chances against East Kentwood and Caledonia and didn’t get it done.

Grand Haven’s Ardell Tavin (3) moves the ball through midfield as the Bucs go on the attack. (photo/Eric Sturr)

“But playing that tough schedule week in and week out prepares us for this. We know what good teams look like. Mona Shores is a good team, had a good season, and came one win away from being conference champions. We needed to make sure we were ready for this, and I’m pleased that our performance indicated that we were ready.”

The Bucs have a lot of offensive weapons, but on Tuesday they relied heavily on their top scorer, senior forward Conner Lund, who delivered two goals in the second half to break open a close game.

Lund, who now has 23 goals on the season, drew high praise after the game from his coach.

“Conner can cut the ball, change directions and unbalance defenders,” Dean said. “He’s very smooth. For a skinny guy, he can hold a lot of defenders off. To hold up all season like he has physically. he really is a special player. It’s been a lot of fun coaching a player like him.”

Grand Haven came into the contest as a solid favorite, but only led 1-0 at halftime. The Bucs’ first-half goal came from Jack DeKlyen with about 28 minutes left in the first half.

Mona Shores’ Julian Silva (8) turns with the ball to pass outside. (photo/Eric Sturr)

The Bucs would have had a bigger lead at the break, but were repeatedly frustrated by great saves from Mona Shores freshman goalkeeper Keegan DeKuiper, who stopped 11 shots in a sparkling first half.

But the Bucs took control in the second half, collecting quick goals from Lund and Trent Perkins in the first 10 minutes, then finished off the night with another tally by Lund and a goal by Andrew Glockzin.

Grand Haven goalkeeper Filberto Juarez stopped seven Mona Shores shots in the contest.

Mona Shores’ lone goal came with 25:40 left in the second half when Gavin Carr’s corner kick found its way through a crowd into the Grand Haven net.

“We knew we couldn’t make any mistakes,” said Mona Shores Coach Mike Apostle, whose team finished the season with a 10-9 record “We knew Grand Haven is tough, always good, and they showed it.”