It was a game nobody deserved to lose. But in the end, only Saline deserved the win.
Bella Petrock scored the winning goal in the shootout as Saline defeated Plymouth 1-0 to win the regional trophy and advance to state semifinal. Annika Udrys turned aside several shots in goal to keep the game scoreless and send it to overtime.
Saline takes on Grand Rapids Forest Hills at 7 p.m., Wednesday at Spring Arbor University. Grand Bland Blanc takes on Utica Ford in the other semifinal. The state championship game is at 4 p.m., June 17 at Williamston High School.
The game was scoreless after two 40-minute halves and two 10-minute overtime periods. The defensive struggle didn’t surprise Saline coach Ryan Williams.
“I figured one goal would be the difference. They're a heck of a defensive team. The reason why they're so good is that it's all 11 girls. And that's what makes us so good as well,” Williams said.
In the shootout, each team is given five attempts to score. The team with the most goals wins.
Saline sent out shooters Morgan Jones, Bella Petrock, Emily Eitzman, Genesis Pena and Sarah Brannan and goalie Annika Udrys.
Plymouth shot first and scored. Jones tied it up for Saline. Udrys nearly snagged Plymouth’s seconds hot, but it went in. Pena tied it at two for the Hornets. Plymouth scored to make it 3-2, but Saline’s fabulous freshman, Eitzman, tied the score. Plymouth’s next shooter banged her shot of the crossbar. Petrock stepped up and kicked her shot in goal to give Saline a 4-3 lead. Plymouth’s final shooter need to score to give the Wildcats a chance. Her shot bounced off the goal post and back out. The Hornets celebrated their victory at midfield.
Coach Williams had every confidence in his shooters in the overtime.
“The girls have been practicing those for months now. They went up and those were some of the best PKs I've ever seen in the heat of the moment,” Williams said. “They practice those every single practice. The girls know we believe in them. We told them to just go up and put them in the corner like they do every day. And that’s what they did.”
Victory was cathartic after such a grueling game. Especially for those who seniors who played on the state championship team in 2015 and who lost in district last year.
Midfielder Sydney Jarvela and Defensive back Abbey Bowen are two of those seniors.
When Plymouth’s last shootout attempt bounced off the post and out, the Hornets celebrated.
“We were just jumping all over each other, to be honest. Nobody could even process anything,” Bowen said.
With time to reflect, they were able to see the bigger picture.
“It feels great. Last year we were really shut down. We didn’t even win a district championship. Coming from that state (championship) the year before, it was hard to not get any trophy at all,” Jarvela said. “So, it was our goal this year to retaliate and come back.”
Early in the game, Plymouth seemed a little quicker and a little more aggressive. About 11 minutes into the contest, the Wildcats forced a midfield turnover and quickly made several passes for a good shot from the right side, but Udrys was there to stop it for Saline.
With about 12:30 left in the half, the Wildcats nearly cashed in on a corner kick. The ball was played off the crossbar and apparently hit the upright before it came down in the crease and was kicked in the Saline goal. Plymouth fans cheered the goal but it was immediately called off.
Saline seemed to wear the Wildcats down and the game was much more evenly played the rest of regulation. Saline’s best chance in regulation came with about four minutes left. Bella Petrock’s free kick from 25 yards was blocked. Saline maintained pressure and Petrock kicked another shot toward the Plymouth goal. Hannah Bird nearly outmuscled to girls to get there, but she was held back and she couldn’t quite reach the loose ball before the goalie scooped it.
The game was scoreless after regulation. The teams then played two, 10-minute overtimes.
The longer the game went, the more it appeared Saline was playing for the shootout.
Coach Williams said that wasn’t really the case. At the same time, the Hornets weren’t going to break their defensive formation for offense.
“You could tell both teams were playing like one mistake could win the game or cost the season,” Williams said.
When pressed, Williams admitted he very comfortable playing a conservative, defensive style and then handing the game to his shooters in the shootout.
Williams credited his 11-girl team defense, but he gave extra praise to his defense and his midfielders.
“Sydney Jarvela and Bella Petrock have played such great soccer and played so many minutes down the stretch. And our defense handled Plymouth’s talented and fast players,” Williams said.
He said Morgan Jones was the best player on the field Friday.
“She lifts the team with her play. She’s a high level, elite player. I challenged her to take over the game and she did,” Williams said. “She was involved in the attack while doing a phenomenal job shutting down their attackers. She was winded out there, giving it everything she had.”
The Hornets now focus on Wednesday’s state semifinal against Grand Rapids Forest Hills.
For the girls who’ve been to the final four before, it’s nothing new. They’re glad to have experience on their side. Still, they’re eager.
“It’s so exciting. It’s great to have that experience under our belt so we know what it’s like,” Bowen said.
For most of the team, it’s a brand new experience. Jarvela offered this advice to her younger teammates.
“Keep doing your thing. We don’t need to be nervous. We don’t need to try anything crazy when obviously, what we’re doing is working,” Jarvela said.
“It’s just another soccer game,” Bowen said with a smile. “Just a really important one.”