By Ron Rop

NORTON SHORES – The final score will show the Grand Haven Buccaneers won the Division 1 district soccer championship on Thursday night with a 2-1 victory over host Mona Shores.

However, most of the accolades from the game were directed toward the gutsy performance of the host Sailors, who played much of the game a man short due to a red card 15 minutes into the game.

The result moves Grand Haven (13-2-3) into next week’s regional tournament at Portage Northern. The Bucs will take on Rockford, a 2-0 winner over East Kentwood in their district final. Rockford is ranked No. 3 in Division 1 in the most recent rankings.

On Thursday, the gritty Sailors came out strong and controlled a good share of the possession.

“Mona Shores is an amazing team,” said Grand Haven coach Nick Tejchma, a 2003 graduate of Mona Shores. “Billy (Moulatsiotis) has these guys playing awesome and we knew coming in this was going to be a fun battle. To be back here, against them, was great.”

“We played with a lot of grit and a lot of heart,” Moulatsiotis said. “They showed real class today. I don’t think anyone got real chippy, but emotions were high both ways … extremely high. This is a bitter rivalry. Sometimes things can get out of control, but I thought our guys played pretty classy and pretty composed.”

However, that momentum came to an abrupt halt 15 minutes into the game when a Sailor player was whistled for intentionally handling the ball on a “clear scoring opportunity” in front of the net. That was the explanation given to Moulatsiotis.

Not only was a penalty kick awarded, but a red card was issued. That left the Sailors with nine field players for the remaining 65 minutes of the game.

Senior Ryan Heck fired the penalty kick into the right side of the net and Grand Haven led 1-0.

Shores’ best scoring chance of the opening half came with 3:25 remaining. Kaden Pulaski broke in on a partial breakaway. His shot was saved by GH keeper Tyler Colvin and the resulting rebound was fired over top of the net.

“We dominated possession for most of the game,” Moulatsiotis said. “My boys played well today and I don’t think they have anything to hang their heads about. They had a great season.”

Mona Shores tied the game in the second half when Easton Lopez unloaded a shot from 22 yards out that sailed over the outstretched hands of Colvin.

The Sailors continued to have the better of the possession and scoring chances for much of the final half.

Grand Haven made a run at the Sailor net with slightly more than 6 minutes remaining. A loose ball rolled across the mouth of the goal and junior Andrew Raven was standing unattended near the right post for the easy tap-in.

Mona Shores continued to push the play, but was unable to mount any more serious attacks on the Buc goal.

“We had our ups and downs,” Tejchma said. “They did a great job when we got the ball to the outside. Mona Shores brought it. They did a great job moving the ball around and using their guys in the middle.”

Mona Shores finished the season 15-2-3.