By Aaron McClorey

FRUITPORT – Winner moves on, and the loser’s season is over – that’s how the state high school soccer tournament works.

Reeths-Puffer senior captain Jaxon Carpenter definitely didn’t want his final season of prep soccer to be over on Thursday, and he acted quickly to make sure that didn’t happen.

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Jaxon Carpenter controls for Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Tonya Pardon

Carpenter scored two goals in the first half, including one less than two minutes into the game, to propel the Rockets to a 3-1 victory over Fruitport in the opening round of the Division 2 district soccer tournament on the Trojans’ home field.

Reeths-Puffer, now 5-7-4 on the season, moves on to face Whitehall on Tuesday in the semifinal round.

“Big time player making big time plays,” R-P Coach Kody Harrell said about Carpenter.  “He’s like another coach on the field. (Jaxon) brings that on top of his goal striking abilities, keeping guys organized, which is a huge advantage for us.”

“Jaxon Carpenter is one of the better players in the area,” said Fruitport coach Dan Hazekamp. “You make a mistake and he’s going to make you pay, and he did it twice to us.”

Even though Carpenter will be graduating and leaving the R-P program at the end of the season, the future seems bright for the Rockets, based on the performance of at least two freshmen on Thursday.

Freshman goalkeeper Gage Hopkins stopped seven of eight shots to keep the Rockets’ lead safe throughout the contest.

Fellow freshman Liam Smith scored a first-half goal for R-P, and put two more shots on net before halftime

“Liam has a really high IQ for the game, has a lot of experiences playing travel ball, but is also very, very humble.” Harrell said. “It’s perfect timing having him come in with Jaxon being a senior. We’re hoping he can step right into that leadership role.”

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Jackson Smith-Upson gets his foot on the ball around Reeths-Puffer’s No. 8 Aidan McHugh. Photo/Tonya Pardon

The Rockets played better than their record might indicate, but that’s probably the result of the kind of competition they face in the regular season. They compete in the very tough O-K Green conference, against soccer powers like Holland, Grand Rapids Union and Mona Shores.

Playing good teams makes you good over time.

“I told our guys there’s no such thing as losing in high school soccer, it’s just winning and learning,” Harrell said. “Grinding out the O-K Green Conference really prepared us for tonight.”

Carpenter gave R-P a big advantage when he scored a goal just 1:18 into the game, then added another with about 15 minutes left in the first half.

Smith made it 3-0 when his shot went off the crossbar and the ball found its way into the Fruitport net with about 10 minutes to go in the first half.

The Rockets outshot the Trojans 9-2 in the first half and 15-8 in the game.

Fruitport finally broke the shutout bid when Sean Gieske scored late in the second half, but the Trojans couldn’t get any closer.

Fruitport ended the season with a 6-6-3 record.

“It’s hard to dig out of a 3-0 hole like that, playing against an organized side,” Hazekamp said. “Unfortunately, we just ran out of time.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Justin Laus was a bright spot for Fruitport, stopping 12 shots and taking some quality scoring opportunities away from the Rockets.

“We put a lot of trust in Justin,” Hazekamp said. “He’s going to do great things going forward. He kept us in the game while we were turning the tide after that slow start.”