SOCCER: Saline Falls to Skyline in Overtime Thriller in District Semifinal
It was everything you want a playoff soccer team between two great teams to be.
Unfortunately, for Saline, Skyline won the rubber match between the two SEC Red rivals as they met Tuesday in the MHSAA District Semifinal at Skyline High School.
Skyline won, 3-1, scoring a goal in the first 10-minute overtime and then adding another with three seconds left as the Hornets pushed everyone up for the equalizer.
Junior Christian Rossi scored Saline's only goal to tie the game early in the second half. Rossi's goal gave him 27 for the season - breaking the school record of 26 set by Cam Cameron in 2003.
Coach Ryan Williams said the Hornets overcame a slow start and battled hard in the second half and in overtime.
"The atmosphere was electric. It was playoff soccer," Williams said. "We didn't come out as I thought we would in the first half with our energy and execution. But I thought we responded great. We had other chances that we didn't capitalize on in the second half. Then you go into overtime and guys from both teams are cramping - giving it everything they've got. I told our guys that, no matter what, we're leaving it all on the field, and we did that, and I'm so proud of them for that."
Skyline opened the scoring in the first half when a Skyline forward made a slick fake that bought him the time and space he needed to score. The Hornets dominated play to start the second half.
Rossi found a small opening and was suddenly speeding in on goal with a Skyline defender on his tail. Just as the Skyline player trie a sliding tackle, Rossi unleashed a shot that skidded past the Skyline goalie, Bailey Edison, and into the net.
Williams is running out of accolades to describe Rossi.
"He's special. He's an absolutely exceptional soccer player. He's playing a step ahead of a lot guys on the field," Williams said. "His ability to make players better and his leadership, and his ability to come in every day with a great attitude and great work ethic, is a big reason why he's so good."
Williams said his finishing ability is the best he's seen in a high school soccer player.
After that Saline goal, Skyline amped up the attack. Goalie Riley Behrman and his team survived it. Behrman made several great stops - leaping to punch away corner kicks, diving to stop redirects. Luke Allen and Drew Barker both kicked balls outs of dangerous scrambles deep in the goal crease to help the Hornets preserve the 1-1 tie.
Late in the second half freshman Jaedyn Sifuna showed his potential, overwhelming the Skyline defense with speed and power for scoring chances. One shot was deflected away, another went wide and a header also went wide.
Regulation play finished with the score tied at 1. Both teams came out flying in overtime.
About 2:30 into the first overtime period, Evan Grill blew through a defender and found himself one-on-one with the goalie, but at a bad angle. So he dropped the pass to Rossi, who shot the ball just wide of the post.
With 4:15 to play, Victor Fontana's corner kick sailed through the crease and into the corner of the net. Skyline led 2-1. With about two minutes left in the first overtime, Barker smashed a hard shot that was slapped away by the Skyline goalie.
In the second 10-minute overtime, the Hornets struggled to generate momentum until the last three minutes. Rossi sent a header wide and Grill was stopped at point blank range by Edison.
Skyline added their third goal after the Hornets sent everyone up field seeking the tying goal.
It was the final game as Hornets for seniors Jackson Ford, Jake Day, Jason Chen, Benjamin Faulkner, Evan Grill, Joshua Keuhn and Charlie Schroeter. Williams said it was a senior class
Williams said it's always difficult to see a season come to an end.
"It's always difficult, especially seeing the seniors and the emotions. I love those guys. I love every kid on this team," Williams said. "A lot of people questioned our chemistry at the beginning of the season, because we lost so many guys. But this group created a brotherhood. They made memories that will last a lifetime. I think the world of them and I'm so proud of them."
For those coming back in 2022-23, it could be a great year. Saline returns many of its top producers. Five underclassmen made all-conference from this year's team.
"I think we have a lot to look forward to in the future," Williams said.