On Wednesday, Buitenhuis again made his presence felt in the regional tournament as his header goal early in the first half propelled the Buccaneers to a 2-0 victory over Portage Central in the Division 1 regional semifinals at Holt High School.
With the win, Grand Haven advances to Saturday’s regional championship game against O-K Red rival and No. 1-ranked East Kentwood, a 2-1 overtime winner over Brighton on Wednesday. Saturday’s game begins at 5 p.m.
“It felt great. It was a flashback to last year,” said Buitenhuis, who played an outstanding game at forward on Wednesday after starting the season as a defender.
As for the game-winning goal, which came just 15 minutes into the game, Butenhuis was simply in the right place at the right time.
“Someone crossed it in to Kevin (Lacroix). Kevin was on a guy, and I saw I was wide open, so I told Kevin to flick it, and he flicked it right to my head, and I put it over the goalie. Scoring early for us has been really important. Every time we score early, we do good things,” he said.
Buitenhuis’ early goal took the pressure off a young Grand Haven squad, which returns only a handful of players who contributed to last year’s state finals run.
Coach Aaron Dean said his team looked a bit too complacent in the 25 minutes following Buitenhuis’ goal, but addressed that issue at halftime.
“In the first half, we scored, then after that, we tended to sit back, and we really struggled to be mobile,” said Dean, whose team is now 12-8-2. “The key for us at halftime was to clean up our technique. We needed to start passing to our team, and the other thing we had to do was play faster. We had too many guys trying to dribble too much.”
The Buccaneers made it out of the first half unscathed, then played exceptional soccer in the second half. They were able to keep the pressure on the Mustangs’ defense by winning almost every ball in the midfield and then make strong passes to maintain possession.
“We were just trying to play ticky-tacky soccer, trying to attack it and dish it off,” said midfielder Gerrit Schaap, who had an outstanding game chasing down balls in the midfield against the Mustangs.
“We were really focusing on winning the ball, swarming to the ball. This is a really good feeling, being in the regional finals. We’re pumped.”
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