Saline fell to top-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 1-0, in the MHSAA Division 1 semifinal game played at Spring Arbor University.
Saline finished the season with a 19-4-1 record. The Lady Hornets were SEC Red champs, district champs and regional champs, achieving a level off success that nobody outside the Hornet locker room expected.
“Nobody gave us much credit. To go the SEC season without giving up a goal is impressive. Nobody expected us to come out of our region. We beat very, very good teams to get here. So I couldn't be happier,” Saline coach Ryan Williams said. “We just played the best team in the state and we played them right up until the final seconds. I could not be more proud.”
It was clear early on that the Lady Hornets were just doing their best to contain the Ranger attack.
“We had seen them play. That's the best team we know of in the state. They scored seven goals in the region against the number two and three ranked teams in the state,” Williams said. “They are a team that is very, very good in the final third. So we tried to defend a shell and keep the game in front of us.”
The Hornets bent, but they did not break. The defense of Emma Wright, Morgan Jones, Sarah Brannan, Sophie Wood and Abbey Bowen kept the shots from the perimeter. When a shot did get through, Udrys was there to make the save.
Saline didn’t have an offensive attack to speak of. But early on, they did have a couple great chances courtesy of Bella Petrock. On a free kick from about 15 yards past the box, Petrock launched a rocket high and wide. A little later in the first half, Petrock stole the ball and, from about 30 yards, fired an even better shot that just missed to the left.
Saline’s defensive shell cracked just once in the first half. With about four minutes to play in the first half, Natalie Lunt was near midfield when she played a perfect ball through the box and to the left of the Saline goal, where Bailey Korhorn, Miss Soccer candidate, got away from her mark just long enough to redirect the ball past Saline goalie Annika Udrys.
“It was a fantastic ball and a fantastic finish. We had the marks there on defense, but it was just a fantastic play by a fantastic player,” Williams said.
Despite being down a goal, the Hornets continued to play conservatively.
“We were down by a goal and wanted to keep it close, hoping we might get that break or be able to push numbers forward in the last 10 or 15 minutes,” Williams said.
When the Hornets finally did stray from their defensive stance, the Rangers nearly made them pay. Udrys made her best saves of the game in the final 12 minutes. At the other end of the field, Morgan Jones, Tate Robison, Hannah Bird and Emily Eitzman tried to mount an attack, but Saline’s only shot on goal came from Alyssa Stavros, who made a nifty couple moves to beat her mark and bounce a shot on goal from the left sideline.
When time finally expired on the Hornets’ season, girls walked off the field more exhausted than disappointed. They knew they’d gone much further than anyone expected. They understood they were the underdogs that were just a play or two away from a major upset.
“The girls walking off the field were completely drained. They gave it their all. They played a great game,” Williams said.
Coach Williams said his departing seasons are going out with their heads held high.
“I've known this group since they were seventh graders and they're all best friends. It's going to be difficult to lose them. But what they've accomplished -- a state championship, a final four -- you couldn't ask for a better high school career and they had a blast doing it, so I'm super proud of them,” Williams said.