By Aaron Poling
When they walked off the field, they did so with a district championship trophy, which was a first for the Oakridge boys soccer program.
Gavin Bignall scored the winning goal late in the game, and Spencer Anderson made some big saves in goal, helping the Eagles beat Tri-County 3-1 in the Division 3 district championship game on their home field.
The Eagles, now 8-2-3 on the season, advance to play West Michigan Conference rival Shelby on Wednesday at Clare High School in the first round of regionals.
“It’s amazing,” said Oakridge Coach Greg Fleener. “Our guys have worked so hard. We just try to get better every day. That’s always our focus – let’s get better than the day before.”
Tri-County nearly got the first goal about midway through the first half, when the Vikings peppered several close range shots at the Oakridge goal, and defenders managed to stop each of them.
The Vikings got one more shot off, and Oakridge goalie Anderson was a little out of position, but defender Tyler Gillette cleared the ball out of the zone with a backward overhead kick.
“I have to clear this, don’t put the ball in the goal,” Gillette said he was thinking at the moment. “Once I cleared it, I was excited that it didn’t go in.”
Oakridge got on the board less than six minutes later. A loose ball rolled to the foot of Victor Contreras, who let a shot fly from just outside the box and buried it, putting the Eagles up 1-0 with 12:06 left in the first half.
“Through the whole process we had talked about taking more shots every game,” Contreras said. “The ball came to me and I took a shot and the ball went into the bottom left corner.”
The Eagles clung to a 1-0 halftime lead. The first part of the second half was scoreless, then Tri-County’s Caden Hoezee scored with 15:54 left, knotting the score at 1-1.
But Oakridge took care of business when it mattered most.
Tri-County was trying to clear the ball out of its box with 5:09 left to play, but the goalie shanked his kick and Bignall was there to pounce on it and deposit it into the open net.
“I felt like I got into a really good position,” Bignall said. “The keeper looked outside for a pass down the line, so I cut off the pass. I chipped the ball past him, and somehow booted it in.”
With 4:25 left, Anderson made his biggest save of the season. Tri County’s Dylan Mulnix sent a cross into the box that was deflected toward the goal. Anderson dove, made the save and was able to hold on to the rebound.
“There was a lot of adrenaline, and I just didn’t want to get scored on,” Anderson said. “Our defense did a great job keeping the ball out of the net. The few times they did get past them, I was able to make the saves.”
“Without a doubt he saved us,” Coach Fleener said about his keeper. “Spencer played great. He is just a smart, fundamentally sound kid, and I couldn’t be more happy for him.
The Eagles’ Arturo Romero iced the victory by scoring with 51 seconds remaining. He beat the keeper to a rebound and floated the ball into the open net from the left wing, giving Oakridge its final margin of victory.
“I rushed to the ball, and they were telling me to hold it,” Romero said. “I told myself I have to finish it right now. Nobody was open, so I just took the shot and it happened to go in.”
Tri County outshot the Eagles 10-7. Anderson made nine saves in goal for Oakridge.