The Fruitport boys soccer team showed off their program pride Thursday night as the Trojans took on Reeths-Puffer in their final regular-season home game and celebrated the careers of six senior players: Logan Fielding, Jerremiah Bosse, Zack Shane, Eli VanMerris, Brendan Kemme and Ryan Bytwerk.
The Trojans edged the Rockets, 1-0, holding onto their narrow lead from midway through the first half to the final whistle, and overcoming a determined Reeths-Puffer attack.
“Reeths-Puffer is a good team, we definitely had to defend them hard today,” Fruitport head coach Greg Kobylak said after the game. “But, we match up pretty well against them.”
With 13 minutes left in the opening half, Cam Schultz broke a persistent Rocket possession streak and let a shot fly from the top of the box. Off his foot like a missile, the shot found the far post, ricocheting back into traffic. Fruitport’s all-time leading scorer, Zack Shane, made sure he was in the right place at the right time, burying the rebound for the lone goal of the game.
“That was Cam Schultz orchestrated,” Kobylak said of the goal. “He made a great turn in the middle and a wonderful shot. Then, Zack did his job being in the right position to finish it off.”
The strike came on a rare early possession for the Trojans, who hit the field for Senior Night a step behind the Rockets.
“For the first five or 10 minutes, it took us a while to get into it,” Kobylak said. “I think a big advantage for us came from our Tuesday game. They had their biggest rival for 80 intense minutes; we got blown out and got to rest our starters at the end. I think we were in a bit of a better spot physically, so we were able to work back into the game.”
The precarious one-goal lead was threatened repeatedly over the course of the conest, as the Rockets launched chance after chance at a bend-not-break Trojan defensive effort.
Connor Hines pulled off a few spectacular saves to lead the defense through eight corner kick opportunities for Reeths-Puffer in the second half alone, while the entire squad did well to keep their heads amidst extremely competitive ball chasing as the Rockets earned themselves three yellow cards over the course of the contest.
“That is how soccer is played,” Kobylak said of the physicality. “It wasn’t dirty today, just hard play.”
The final scare for the Trojans came with 1:47 left in the game, as they drew their first yellow card of the contest just outside of their own box. Hines saved the ensuing free kick, but couldn’t gather the rebound as it bounced back into heavy traffic. A botched touch by Reeths-Puffer sent the ball, and their final tying wish, over the net into darkness.
The win was sweet for the Fruitport seniors, who will leave a unique mark on their program. From four-year starters, to all-time scoring leaders, to first-year soccer players, this group embodies hard work and determination at every turn.
“My favorite par of this job is watching the development from freshman to seniors,” Kobylak said. “This group has a knack for grinding out close games, like this one tonight.
“It is fun, special, to have a scorer like Zack on the team. We have had a lot of goal scorers come through our program, and he is at the top.”
Shane is joined in gradation by two fellow forwards making their own impact on the program, one with blistering speed and the other with quiet contribution.
“Logan Fielding is one of the fastest players to be on the soccer field this season,” Kobylak continued. “He works really hard, and we rest him when he needs it. He has been a four-year varsity player for us and is a huge weapon.
“Ryan Bytwerk is another great forward, who sometimes goes unappreciated by the fans. He is a big part of our team and works very hard.”
The Trojans’ final offensive senior earns his field time with footwork, treading the midfield line with dexterity and ever-improving skill.
“Eli VanMerris is a really crafty center middie,” Kobylak said. “He works really hard. My favorite thing about his game is how he has gotten measurably better every year out on the field.”
Thursday’s shutout comes in stark contrast to their 5-0 loss to Grand Rapids Union on Tuesday, in large part to senior leadership in the backfield.
“This was Brendan Kemme’s first game back from two weeks of injury, and what a difference it made for our defense today, compared to the last game where we gave up 10 goals,” Kobylak said. “Having him back is huge.”
Amidst all the skill, there is still room for heart on this Fruitport squad, where newcomers are welcome as long as they are committed. Such is the case for their final senior.
“Jerry Bosse is a first-year soccer player and has found great ways to contribute for us, despite his lack of experience,” Kobylak said. “Every group is remembered differently. This group will be remembered for their grittiness and determination to win close games.
The unique cast of seniors will be missed from their team, but don’t have to miss their home field just yet. The Trojans will host three district-tournament games as the postseason rolls around, giving the seniors a final chance to impress at home.
“It is a sad thought, being done here,” Shane said if their impending final games at home. “I’ve been playing here for four years. It is tough letting go. This program, it means everything to me. It is in my blood.”
The scoring title was the last thing on the striker’s mind Thursday night.
“It feels good, but it isn’t the most important thing to me,” he said. “Going out and winning games for the team is what matters, and we have a few more to win.”
The Trojans return to the pitch to face Orchard View on Tuesday, before finishing their regular season on the road at Muskegon on Thursday.