HART — Playing exceedingly well before its home fans, the Hart boys soccer team very nearly pulled off a major upset in the West Michigan Conference when it took a 2-0 lead in the second half of Monday night’s game against Manistee.  

The Chippewas came into the game undefeated in the conference at 3-0, but found themselves on the ropes trailing by two goals with under eight minutes left in regulation.  

But, they rallied for three unanswered goals in the remaining time and came away with a hard-fought 3-2 win that sets up a showdown with Ludington on Wednesday night for undisputed possession of first place in the conference.  

Oakridge was the third team that entered Monday night’s action unbeaten in the conference, but lost its chance to stay in a tie for first place with a 2-1 loss to North Muskegon.  

“We uncharacteristically had to play mostly on the counter in the first half, and Manistee’s press kept forcing us to play long,” Hart head coach Joe Gilbert said.  

“But, we would grow into the game and slowly found our possession where we would start to find pressure on the Manistee goal in the latter stages of the first half.”  

The two teams battled to a 0-0 tie at the half as Hart’s keeper made some outstanding saves, and it was quiet on Manistee’s defensive end as the Chippewas imposed themselves on the Pirates.  

Hart put consistent pressure on the Chippewas defense in the second half and won the midfield battle.  

Chico Salgado’s press forced a turnover just outside the Manistee penalty area that Guillermo Ortega would collect and slot across the frame of the net for Adan Cruz to turn onto his right foot and send a rocket shot past Manistee keeper Grayson Prince at 15:41.  

The Pirates continued to dominate ball possession over the next eight minutes until Tony Rayo won a free kick at about midfield that he would launch into the Manistee penalty area, and Salgado flicked the ball along with his head to Cruz, who netted his second goal.  

“Hart played good defense,” said Manistee head coach Brandon Prince. “They made it difficult. We did have chances, but didn’t put them in.  

“Some of the discussion at halftime was the fire Hart would be coming out with (for the second half), and how we had to be prepared for that.  

“That second half, it went as planned. Hart did come out with fire, they pressed well and moved the ball really well through their midfield to get some opportunities on the outside.”  

But the Chippewas made some formation changes, shifting some players around to different spots, altered some things tactically and were able to score three goals in four minutes to escape with the win and improve to 7-2 overall.  

“We took too long on the ball on the kickoff just outside our own penalty area, and Manistee caused a turnover with its press and scored to tie it,” Gilbert said. “We then struggled to find our feet again after losing the lead, and Manistee scored with three minutes left.  

“We threw everything forward in an attempt to sneak through, but were unable to break through. The loss was a tough pill to swallow, but will hopefully serve as an important lesson.”  

Jacob Scharp had two of Manistee’s goals, with foreign exchange student Rafael Goncalves tallied one.  

Assists were credited to Luke Senters and Luke Smith.  

Hart keeper Kyan Clark made seven saves, some of them very spectacular and showcasing much improved 1v1 goaltending on his part. It earned him Man of the Match honors from his fellow captains.  

“I think a lot of the guys are wishing 24 hours would come quick, and we can get going,” coach Prince said of Wednesday’s clash with Ludington.  

“We’ll prepare tomorrow, I’ll make some adjustments and talk about the next game. We’ll take that day of kind of finding our legs again.”  

Hart slipped to 3-4-1 overall and 0-3-1 in the conference, and will next travel at Grant in a non-conference matchup on Wednesday night.