Salem scored two second-half goals to defeat Saline, 2-1, in the regional semifinal at Ann Arbor Huron Tuesday.
Saline held a 1-0 lead at halftime on Matt Kocibelli’s goal. Salem tied the game on a controversial goal and then scored the game-winner with one of Saline’s most talented players on the sidelines with a red card.
Saline head coach Ryan Williams said his team worked hard but could have played a little smarter. Still, he admitted the controversial calls made the loss more difficult to swallow.
The controversial goal came after a hand-ball gave Salem a free kick six minutes into the second half. The free kick was played to Jamie Crosby to the left of the Saline goal. From a bad angle he ripped a shot past Nolan Krause’s outstretched hands and off the crossbar. The ball bounced down and then up over the cross bar again before Krause caught it in a crowd. But while the Hornets were starting the transition, the center official blew the whistle and called a goal.
The sideline official, who was closer to the action, did not signal a goal.
“It was a tough call. It could have went either way.” Williams said. “The official felt that the ball completely crossed the line after it hit the bar and bounced down.”
Things got worse for the Hornets when Anthony Sweier was assessed a red card and ejected from the game after being called for two fouls on marginal plays. Until Sweier’s ejection, Salem’s defense had a difficulty containing the frenetic Hornet.
Saline survived a couple of second half free kicks, but with 11 minutes to play, Josh Stevens served a corner kick to Christian Freitag, who headed the ball into the net for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Williams said he thought his players were a little sloppy.
“At half-time, I told the team that the refs seemed to be calling it really tight, so they needed to limit fouls and not give them set piece opportunities,” Williams said. “We felt good about limiting opportunities in the run of play but we gave up too many set pieces.”
Trying to rally, the Hornets generated several scoring chances. Cole Larance got his head on an Aaron Mentzer free kick, but keeper Andrew Kozan punched it away. And with just over a minute to play, the Hornets set up a brilliant chance. Kocibelli sprinted up the center and passed to Cole Larance on the right wing. He passed back to the middle hit Jacob Herner, running at full speed, Herner worked his way between two Rocks and then launched just over the net from 20 yards out.
“Our kids fought. They fought all the way to final whistle, so I was extremely proud of them,” Williams said.
Saline scored its goal with 12:34 to play in the first half. Ryan Nichols played a perfect ball through to Matt Kocibelli who, from the left side, ripped a shot right of the keeper and into the goal.
After the game Williams had difficulty masking his disappointment in the officiating – especially when it came to the red card that ejected Sweier midway through the second half.
“I was frustrated with the second call. To give the kid the red because of the second yellow and take him him out of the game with 20 minutes to play, that was tough. I thought it was a foul, but I disagreed with the card. Anthony is one of our most dangerous players and he was creating chances because Salem struggled with his pace,” Williams said. “We got four cards in that game and they got one. I thought that was an interesting game for the official.”
Despite the bitter loss, Williams said the Hornets should be proud of their season, highlighted by last week’s rain soaked district championship victory over unbeaten Skyline.
“I’m proud of what this team accomplished. After we graduated 14 seniors last year, a lot of people counted us out and figured it would be a rebuilding year. I told everyone around me that we had great young guys and that our seniors would be able to lead them,” Williams said. “We had a season where played well against the toughest competition in the state and we won a district title. Win or lose, this group was extremely coachable and they did whatever it took. It was a really special group.”
The Hornets will return next year with many promising players, including Christopher Chuparkoff, North York, Jake Caldwell, Nick Scott and Ryan Nichols. They’ll assume the leadership roles vacated by graduating seniors like Cole Larance, Aaron Mentzer, Gabe Walder and Nolan Krause.
Williams praised his senior class for its leadership. In particular, he recognized seniors defender Cole Larance and midfielder Mentzer – two guys who played on the Saline team that went to the semifinals two years ago.
“You don’t see players like Cole Larance very often. He’ll go down as one of the top players to come through Saline. He sold out for this team today. It didn’t go our way, but he did everything we asked. He’s one of the best players in the state,” Williams said. “Aaron has a great personality and the players love being around him. His work ethic in the middle taught a lot of the younger players what it takes and what Saline soccer is about.”