Thelen had junior Molly Cooke in goal for the previous 100 minutes of the contest, in which the Lakers and Red Hawks played to a 2-2 tie.
But Thelen had determined coming into the contest that if the game indeed went to a shootout, he would go with Reed, despite the fact she was a freshman and would likely be coming in untested off the bench.
Cooke was solid throughout Tuesday’s game, Thelen said, but he based his reasoning, of all things, on a lopsided late-in-the-season junior varsity game.
“The second to last game for the JV team, we were playing Fremont, and we were up big,” Thelen recalled. “Nora hadn’t touched the ball the entire game, but late in the second half, we were called for a (penalty kick). Even though she hadn’t faced a shot, she stepped up and saved it.
“Yeah, she’s our back-up and our starting JV goalie, but she’s quick off the line and we’ve seen her do it in practice. It’s a million dollar bet. If it goes, it goes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Reed made her coach look brilliant, as she made an impressive diving save on Cedar Springs’ fourth penalty kick to give the Lakers a thrilling 4-3 victory in the shootout. Spring Lake (14-6 overall) advances to Friday’s regional championship against DeWitt. The Panthers blanked Mount Pleasant in Tuesday’s later semifinal at Cedar Springs, 3-0.
Reed said she was notified by Thelen during the first 10-minute overtime session that she would be going in for the shootout.
“I was a little nervous, especially since I’m a freshman,” she said.
Cedar Springs and Spring Lake each scored on their first three penalty shots, with the Lakers’ Molly Miedema, Katie Smith and Emily Walling converted their attempts. Cedar Springs was off on its fourth try, as senior Kayla Coutchie booted her shot high over the crossbar.
Kelsey Fortier then calmly made the Lakers 4-for-4, putting the pressure on the Red Hawks to convert. Senior captain Shelby Moore got the call, and fired to Reed’s right.
“I looked into her eyes and my instincts told me she was going right,” said Reed, whose instincts were spot on as she made a sprawling stop.
Her save set off a wild Lakers’ celebration, which also let Spring Lake off the hook considering it coughed up a 2-0 halftime lead.
The Lakers commanded the opening half and were close to making it 3-0 with under a minute before intermission if not for a diving save by Cedar Springs’ goalie Stephanie Finnila.
Although midfielder Katie Smith thought the Lakers were a step slow connecting in the first half, Spring Lake’s playmakers were still able to expose the Red Hawks’ defense. With 24 minutes on the clock, Annie Cook dribbled up the right sideline and made an ankle-breaking move to give her an open path inside the penalty box. Cook’s shot on goal was partially deflected, but Finnila couldn’t secure the save, giving Lakers’ senior Katie Albright an easy punch-in on the rebound.
Smith showed off her superb passing skills with 5:50 on the clock, as she took a feed 20 yards from the goal and dished to her right to a wide-open Emily Walling. Walling fired a low fastball that somehow slipped in between the post and Finnila’s gloves.
Smith-to-Walling on a tremendous pass nearly worked again with 50 seconds left, but Finnila had it read.
“(Katie’s) been awesome,” Thelen said. “She just brings so much energy, and it really lifts the other girls. And you see, when she got tired (in the second half), our team went down a notch, too.”
Fatigue was a factor with both teams considering the temperature on the Red Hawks’ field turf was in upper 90s.
“It was hot,” Smith said with a laugh. “It definitely affected the play out there. By the end of the game we just tried to dig deep. We were talking on the sidelines and saying we’ve have to play to our fullest.”
Cedar Springs scrapped its first-half strategy of possessing and trying to create, and instead attacked with long passes. Junior Kendra Myers scored five minutes into the second half, as the Lakers’ defense lost focus and let Myers easily control a long, swooping pass and fire past Cooke.
Just seven minutes later, Cedar Springs tied the contest, as Amber Milligan controlled a long centering pass and blasted the ball past a charging Cooke.
“Soccer’s a funny game,” Thelen said. “We got a little tired. It was hot out there. Our defense has been so solid lately, so it was kind of upsetting when we got a little lax.”
The Lakers were clearly the aggressor offensively in the overtime sessions, outshooting the Red Hawks 6-0. They couldn’t break the tie, however, despite a trio of close shots on goal by Kelsey Kippe. Spring Lake held an 17-8 advantage in shots during the contest.
With a win Friday, Spring Lake would advance the furthest in the postseason in program history.