For more than half the Michigan high school boys’ soccer teams, the season is over. But after two playoff victories, including Wednesday’s 4-0 victory over Woodhaven, Saline is alive and well, and hoping the post-season is just getting started.
Ryan Nichols scored twice and Zeke Gray and Jack Fenelon also scored for the Hornets. Sam Herner, called up from junior varsity to replace the injured Quinn Fox, posted the shutout.
Saline plays Bedford for the district championship at noon Saturday.
“We were lucky to win the draw to play the district here at Saline and we want to protect our field. The guys are really excited for the opportunity,” Saline coach Ryan Williams said. “A lot of good teams have already been eliminated. So we’re taking things one game at a time. It’s easy to say, but I think the team has done a good job keeping its focus.”
Saline wasn’t exactly sure what to make of Woodhaven, a team they didn’t see during the regular season. Williams did that Joshua Varney scored 26 goals and that Nicholas Kekich scored 18.
“We knew they had a couple of kids who could finish well, so we wanted to be sure we closed space quickly,” Williams said.
Saline got a taste of what happens in the first half when they gave one of the Warriors space and he rang a shot off the crossbar.
“Besides that play, I thought we did a good job,” Williams said.
Zeke Gray opened the scoring with a shot from the middle that the goalie looked like he snared. But it spun out of his hands and into the goal for an early 1-0 lead. The goal came after constant pressure from the Saline attack..
“I really liked our energy. We talked about our high pressure defense and team energy. Kids were stepping in and tackling hard and feeding off each other. When we do that we play our best soccer,” Williams said. “We lacked it a little at the start of last game (against Ypsilanti). This game I thought started right from the opening kick off. Our overall energy created those opportunities.”
Almost mid-way through the half, Saline added to its lead. Ryan Nichols fired a shot from the right side. The Woodhaven goalie gave up a rebound and Jack Fenelon beat his man to the ball and put it past the helpless keeper.
“Jack’s energy sparks our team. His goal was an effort play. He made a 40-yard sprint following up the play to score what looked like an easy finish,” Williams said. “A lot of times you don’t get rewarded for those. To sell-out for 40 yards is awesome.”
Nichols, a menace to the warriors all night charging in from the right wing, added to the lead with just under eight minutes to play in the half. He ran in from the right side an unleashed a laser into the corner for a 3-0 lead.
Before the half was up, Nichols scored again, this time heading a ball into the net.
“Ryan was the best player on the field today. He played exceptionally well and could have had more than two goals. Ryan made some beautiful runs,” Williams said.
In goal sophomore Herner wasn’t tested often. He endured a couple of early flurries and picked up a couple of harmless bouncing shots. Still, Herner impressed with his poise after being thrust from junior varsity games into the MHSAA Division 1 playoffs.
“He was a little nervous but he’s a phenomenal keeper. I coached him when he was in seventh grade. His reaction save ability is great. We all believe in him even though it is a bummer losing Quinn,” Williams said.
The Michigan Power Rodding 3 Stars
- Ryan Nichols – Was a force speeding in from the right wing all night. Scored two. Created another. Could have easily had more.
- Zeke Gray – Scored the opening goal and game-winning goal and played great balls to keep the Hornets running in on dangerous attacks.
- Jack Fenelon – Great midfield play and who got it done at both ends of the field with hustle and skill.