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HART — For the first time in almost two decades, Manistee is headed for the Division 3 regional soccer tournament after turning back a determined Hart squad, 3-2 for the district championship.

Wednesday’s game was played in Hart.

Manistee came back from a 1-0 halftime deficit and was tied 2-2 midway through the second half. The Chippewa victory was their ninth straight.
 
Foreign exchange student Gres Mandelli came up with the game-winner with 12 minutes left in the game and the Chippewas managed to stave off a furious rush by the Pirates.
 
“I thought we played well, I thought we played balanced,” said Manistee coach Brandon Prince. “We controlled the game as much as we should. They did catch us on a counter in the first half to get that goal in. But, that’s what happens. They keep you on your toes. They’ve got some talented guys up in their middle, and they just snuck it through.
 
“But, our guys stayed resilientk” Prince said. “We knew it was going to be that tournament style going into this. It was just keep your eyes forward, and let’s play the rest out of the game out. Hart really fought back, and we just kept going. It was a good victory.”
 
Guillermo Ortega sent a left-footed cross to Josue Salgado, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
 
But the Chippewas kept the Pirates from doing any more damage and went into the half with that narrow one-goal deficit.
 
After the two teams battled for the first 20 minutes of the second half, Manistee was finally able to score its first goal of the contest by Jacob Scharp to make it 1-1.
 
Manistee then capitalized on a penalty kick that was converted by Luke Smith to take a 2-1 lead.
 
“I’m happy with the game that we played, and I’m happy with the way we went out,” Hart coach Joe Gilbert said. “I would have liked a different outcome. The first half we really dominated the chances, and Manistee dominated possession. But, we created some of the better chances in the first half.”
 
Hart didn’t fold after those two unanswered goals by Manistee, and tied the game again, 2-2, when a loose ball bounced out to Tony Rayo, sitting at the top of the 18, who sent a rocket shot that escaped Manistee keeper Grayson Prince.
 
But, the Chippewas answered with about 12 minutes left on a goal by foreign exchange student Gres Mandelli for the game-winner.
 
“We started throwing everything forward, and doing what we could,” Gilbert added. “We had a couple chances to equalize, but ended up going down.
 
“This season was huge for our boys. This is one we’ve been working towards, and building for for a very long time. It was a very good season. We had a lot of firsts.”
 
It was the first time in 10 years that the Pirates had made a district final, and they had their most wins in a decade. The Pirates (13-7-2) put up some big numbers this year.
 
Manistee improved to 16-3 on the season and will play in the regional tournament at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Clare.

Photo/Greg Gielczyk