By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Mona Shores’ Hayden Yaros was surprised his first goal – a long shot from roughly 20 yards out – went into the net, giving his team an early lead over rival Reeths-Puffer.

Hayden Yaros pushes past Reeths-Puffer’s Brady Wheeler. Photo/Joe Lane

But he knew he couldn’t rely on luck on his final scoring opportunity, which came late in a tied game.

Yaros got the ball and broke in on the Rockets’ goal alone with just under 14 minutes remaining.

He managed to stay a step ahead of a defender who was on his heels, got as close to the goal line as possible, then tapped a shot into the net, giving the Sailors a hard-fought 3-2 victory at Reeths-Puffer on Tuesday in O-K Black Conference soccer action.

“I just had to walk it in and tap it in,” said Yaros, a junior who scored his first two goals of the season. “I had to make sure it went in. I couldn’t have any mess-ups or anything. It felt amazing. I finally got my first two goals against Reeths-Puffer.”

The victory was a tough one to earn for the Sailors, who led early in the first half, managed to remain in a tie at halftime despite being outplayed, then trailed early in the second half.

Mona Shores gained the upper hand by making some adjustments at halftime and turning on an offense that was largely dormant in the first 40 minutes.

Yaros started the scoring less than two minutes into the contest when his long shot somehow managed to trickle past R-P goalkeeper DeMario Chapman.

Reeths-Puffer pulled even with 23:55 left in the half when Jaxon Carpenter found the mark on a free kick from just outside the goalie box.

The Rockets just missed a chance to take the lead when a shot bounced off the post of the Mona Shores goal with 10:35 left in the half.

Ashton Carpenter controls the ball as Mona Shores No. 2 David McNiff looks to defend. Photo/Joe Lane

The score was tied 1-1 at halftime, which was good news for the Sailors, who were outshot 7-3 in the first half, and went without a shot on goal for nearly 26 minutes.

Mona Shores survived the first half due to several impressive saves by junior goalkeeper Keegan DeKuiper, who leaped and dove to stop numerous Rocket shots that should have found the net.

“Keegan is a great goalie,” said Mona Shores Coach Mike Apostle, whose team is now 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the O-K Black. “Sometimes we rely on him a little too much. We were lucky to be tied 1-1 at the half.”

Reeths-Puffer looked like it might take control early in the second half, when Ashton Carpenter took a nice centering pass from his brother Jaxon and scored from a few feet out, giving the Rockets a 2-1 lead.

But Mona Shores regrouped nicely, outshooting the Rockets 9-5 in the second half and scoring the final two goals.

The Sailors tied things up 2-2 when Jordan DeKuiper chipped in a corner kick from in front of the goal about 15 minutes into the second half.

The Rockets thought they had taken the lead again about five minutes later, but their goal was waved off due to an offside call.

Yaros scored the game-winner with his breakaway goal with 13:57 left, and the Sailors held on from there.

“I told them (at halftime) that we had to pick it up and play smart,” Apostle said. “Reeths-Puffer is the type of team that will come out and take control of the game, and we had to figure out a way to make them adjust to us.”

Despite the loss, there were definite signs of progress for the Rockets, who lost both of their games to Mona Shores last season by a combined score of 10-1.

“We moved the ball well in the first half, but the second half was really different,” said R-P Coach Keith Knapp, whose team is now 3-2-1 overall and 0-1 in conference play.

“We have largely the same personnel as last season, but they are a year older, a year more mature, and we have a few nice additions. The boys are playing very well. For us to make that kind of adjustment from one year to the next, I’m very encouraged. Our future looks bright. We just have to make sure we keep our spirits up.”