by Greg Gielczyk
It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. And in the final analysis, that’s all that counts.
Looking for its first regional victory in 16 years, the North Muskegon boys’ soccer team made a first-half goal stand up in sending out McBain Northern Michigan Christian, 1-0 in the MHSAA Division 4 regional semifinal at Rotary Field in Cadillac Tuesday.
The Comets finish 18-2-1.
“We’ve been kind of a scrappy team all year,” Norsemen head coach Jeremy Tjapkes said. “We’ve had some scrappy wins, and McBain had a lot of fight in them.
“At this point, every team you play is going to have a lot of fight. But our boys scrapped. It wasn’t the prettiest. Our boys know that. But, it was effective. We got the win, and we’re moving on.”
Tjapkes did joke with his team afterward that he wouldn’t mind an extra goal or two next time. One-goal games like Tuesday’s put a strain on the heart.
No doubt a lot of the Norsemen fans who made the trip for the game would agree.
The two teams settled into a defensive struggle through much of the first half, with neither able to find a chink in either’s armor until a mistake by the Comets’ goalkeeper opened the door for the Norsemen to get on the board.
Senior captain Hunter Koekkoek ripped a hot shot that the Comets’ keeper couldn’t cradle into his arms, and senior forward Ben Hoffer displayed great discipline to come in and get his foot on the ball to slam home the rebound with 17:02 left in the first half.
“Obviously, you want your forwards to crash those,” Tjapkes said. “The aggressiveness, and putting pressure on the goalie to make a save and knock in the rebound.
“In this particular case he left one on the floor, and Ben was very disciplined and came in … and kind of the hero of the day. Gives us our one-goal advantage to move on.
“The other hero was sophomore goalkeeper Leighton Hunt, who stood on his head to keep the Comets from finding the back of the net, making some spectacular stops and had nine saves. On more than one occasion Hunt found himself leaping high in the air to snag a shot that threatened to go over his fingertips and under the cross bar.
In the second half he kept his composure in the midst of several scrums in front of the Norsemen goal to cradle hard shots and not leaving any scraps.
“He’s been solid for us all year,” said Tjapkes. “He’s ‘Mr. Dependable.’ It was nice to see him get a shutout. I hope he gets another shutout on Thursday. He makes it easier for us.
“We’ll get back to work tomorrow (Wednesday) and try to clean some stuff up, and hopefully play a little bit better on Thursday” said Tjapkes.
North Muskegon had 13 shots on goal for the night, and few were as threatening as those off the foot of junior forward Gabe Lenius, including one particularly dangerous booming bullet that unfortunately went right at the keeper.
North Muskegon, which improved to 11-11-2, last won a regional game in 2005, and the Norsemen would advance all the way to the state finals. Tjapkes is hoping for a repeat.
The next step is in the regional final Thursday night when North Muskegon will take on Wyoming Potter’s House Christian who defeated Buckley 7-1 in the nightcap.