For a half, the Hornets had the wind at their back and they couldn’t score. In the second half, tough conditions turned into miserable conditions. The wind picked up. The rain fell harder. And the temperatures dropped.
With 11:11 to play, Sawyer Eggen scored the only goal of the game, giving Plymouth the 1-0 victory over Saline in the regional semifinal at Novi Meadows Stadium.
“It was a tough loss. The kids put everything they had into this game and it just didn't go our way,” Saline coach Ryan Williams said. “I'm incredibly proud of the effort they showed tonight, and heart to compete until the final whistle.”
The Hornets controlled play in the first half, with the win at their backs.
“We wanted to be aggressive and take a lot of shots thinking we could put them under pressure and find the back of the net. Unfortunately, we weren't able to. I would have liked to see us put more shots on frame and really test their keeper, but many shots were off target. Their keeper came up big when he needed to and they played a solid defensive game,” Williams said.
Saline’s best shot came from Nick Scott with 17 minutes to play in the first. From just inside the box he fought off a defender and blasted a shot on goal. Plymouth’s keeper made a diving save to swat the ball out of bounds.
With 12:30 to play in the half, Anthony Sweier, from just outside the box on the left side, ripped a shot that bounded off the goalie’s hands. The Hornets got to the rebound, but the shot was deflected out of bounds.
With 3:14 to play in the half, Logan Dejanovich made a great move to create space on the right wing. He fired a hard shot from outside the box that the goalie knocked down.
When the second half began Saline knew it was facing an uphill battled because of the wind.
“We focused on connecting on the ground and playing passes to feet. It was difficult because we wanted to connect passes, but in weather conditions like these you can't get cute moving the ball forward and must play a style of soccer that doesn't always look pretty. Long balls into the wind were difficult because they weren't traveling very far,” Williams said.
At first, Sweier, Ryan Nichols and Zeke Gray had success running the ball up the field. But about 10 minutes into the half, the weather got worse. Saline struggled to move the ball up the field. Plymouth started taking the play to Saline. Goalie Sam Herner and the Saline defense kept the Hornets even for almost 20 minutes.
Herner, a junior varsity callup thrust into action when Quinn Fox was hurt, played well, making several saves – not an easy task with the rain blowing in your eyes and wet soccer balls being launched in your direction.
“Sam Herner played an incredible game. He came up huge tonight and made big plays when we needed him to. I can't say enough about the job he has done for this team. To step into a position that demands so much, and to perform at the level he did, is simply amazing. He's going to have a great future and we're excited to see him continue to get better and better,” Williams said. “The conditions were a nightmare for a keeper. Slick, wet field, where the ball is extremely tough to handle, and the pace it comes in at when struck is very difficult. He proved tonight he can play at a very high level.”
Defenders North York and Jake Caldwell also did their best to keep Saline tied. North made several great plays to thwart the Plymouth attack.
“That might have been the best game I've ever seen North York play. He was an absolute rock in the back and won so many tackles and headers for us. I know he was very upset not to win, but he played his heart out and I'm so proud of the fight he showed today,” Williams said.
With just over 11 minutes to play, Plymouth broke the tie.
The Hornets threw everything they had at the Wildcats. Jack Fenelon came close, bursting up the middle and into the box, but he was bothered just enough by a defender to force the shot wide.
Caldwell went nearly end to end to create a great scoring chance for Saline in the game’s final moments. Williams praised the play of his senior co-captain.
“He is an incredible soccer player, phenomenal leader, and even better person. He is a great role model and a kid a coach dreams to coach. His work ethic, attitude, heart, and ability to do whatever it takes for his team is unmatched,” Williams said. “He had quietly one of the best seasons from a soccer player in Saline history. I'm proud to say I was his coach and he will be dearly missed.”
Saline had one last real shot when it was awarded a corner kick with under a minute to play. Grays kick went into the crowd by Plymouth kicked it out and away from danger.
The Hornets finished the season with a great record and a district championship. Coach Williams, though disappointed with the loss, was proud of the team’s season.
“It was a fantastic season. 15-4-4 with a very difficult schedule is impressive. I'm so proud of what this team has accomplished and wouldn't want to coach any other group of kids. It's always so tough to end when you believe you could have achieved more, but the heart these kids played with tonight and the way they came together as a family was something special,” Williams said. “They left it all on the field and should feel proud of how they played. Sometimes it doesn't go your way, but the team represented Saline soccer the right way tonight and I'm incredibly proud to be their coach.”
It was the final game for seniors Jake Caldwell, Josh Bradin, Jack Fenelon, Ian Greene, Garrett Morales, Nick Scott, North York and Anthony Sweier.
“This group of seniors was special. The legacy they left will live on forever and they left a mark on this program that will always be remembered. They showed the underclassmen that with hard work, competitiveness, and a will to win anything is possible. There's eight phenomenal soccer players that will be missed but they are even better people,” Williams said. “I'm so happy for the success they were able to accomplish and even more proud to be able to coach them. All eight will be dearly missed.”
The Michigan Power Rodding 3 Stars of the Game
- North York: As the game got tougher and Plymouth looked more and more dangerous, York made great tackles and stops to prevent quality scoring chances.
- Sam Herner: Playing in about the worst conditions imaginable, Herner made several good saves, including one diving save, in the second half to keep the score tied at 0.
- Jake Caldwell: The senior defender played strong defense all night. He showed considerable offensive ability late in the game when he led a charge up the field.