Kalamazoo Hackett defeated WMC in the state semifinals at Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood, ending the Warriors season via penalty kicks after the teams played to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation and overtime.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to go to that,” said WMC senior goalie Michael Merz. “It’d be awesome if we could just keep battling. It was a great game. But you just have to accept the game, that it was God’s will.”
WMC took an early lead in the PK’s, when Will Deur hit a mid-net shot toward the right side. Merz dove and slapped Hackett’s first kick away, preserving the 1-0 lead.
The Hackett keeper did the same on the Warriors’ next shot, before the Irish made one of their own to tie the penalty kicks at 1-1.
WMC’s Chance Larson and his Hackett counterpart nailed the next shots to the upper left corners, before the fourth shooters broke the tie.
The Warriors’ Cal Robrahn hit the crossbar, before the Irish’s James Amat guessed Merz’s move, kicking it middle as the keeper dove left.
Owen Alfree missed WMC’s last shot wide right, guaranteed the win for Hackett. The Warriors close their season with a 17-6-1 mark.
The Irish (17-5-1) move on to face Genesee Christian (25-0) in Saturday’s state final at Brighton (12 p.m.).
WMC coach David Hulings said that Wednesday’s contest should have never come to a shootout — that the Warriors should have ended the game in regulation or overtime.
“We got here on a PK shootout, so you live by it, you die by it,” Hulings said. “We played two really good teams in the region who could have been here as well. I feel like I let my team down with the way I coached tonight, I should have done better. This was on me as a coach.
“It shouldn’t have got to PK’s. I had some adjustment I should have made, and I didn’t make them. I feel bad anytime we have a PK shootout, but it’s how our game is played, so you just go with it. There were too many coaching errors on my part.”
Hulings said he regretted focusing on using long balls, instead of a short-pass oriented attack to work the WMC offense down the field.
The Warriors trailed early on Wednesday, as the Irish’s Kieran O’Brien floated a long shot into the net just 20 minutes in the contest.
WMC responded later in the half. Evan Fles flew down the field, reaching the ball just before the Irish defenders flanking him and the fastly-approaching keeper. The sophomore poked the ball past all of them with 25:36 remaining, tying the contest at 1-1.
There was plenty of offense from both sides after that, but no more goals.
WMC seemed to continue bolding momentum, outshooting Hackett 5-1 in the first overtime period, but every kick was just a little bit off.
Hulings said he knew Wednesday’s game would be a close one, even after the early Hackett goal.
“This is my 30th year coaching soccer, 25 in high school, you’re never surprised by anything,” Huling said. “We got scored on in three seconds by Holland Christian, so when they scored it was no big deal. It took them 20 seconds this time, so we were cool.
“I knew we could come back, I knew it was going to be a close game. We knew a 1-goal game, this was going to be it. I didn’t coach right, I didn’t coach the boys right and get them attacking the way I could have attacked this team. I was too slow and too hesitant to make the changes.”
While WMC has made two straight semifinals, the Warriors were eliminated by Calvin Christian in 2014, Hulings said the program isn’t quite where it wants to be.
“This is Western Michigan Christian,” Hulings said. “When I first came here, I remember asking a guy, ‘What’s your goal.’ He looked at me, and he said, ‘What do you mean, what’s my goal?’ And I said, ‘What’s your goal this year?’ He said, ‘The state finals, what else?’ That’s kind of where I’m at. This is our program.
“We break the season into three sections, and then we have the last section, the fourth section, which is this. You’ve got to go six games to get to the final. We were 5-1, that’s not good enough. Like I said, I let the team down.”
With just nine members of the 27-man playoff roster graduating, WMC will have plenty of firepower returning to make a run in 2016. Top returners include Alfree, Fles and Dylan Mines.
“We’ve got some really great kids coming up,” Hulings said. “I had six sophomores and a freshman on the field at one time tonight, and that’s when I actually thought we were controlling the game too.”