“It was like kissing your sister,” a dejected Buccaneers’ senior Chad Buitenhuis, whose rocket of a shot early in the second half gave Grand Haven a 2-1 advantage. “We lost to them 3-0 last year, and we thought we had them. We really wanted to go out and beat them. Falling apart at the end was kind of a heartbreaker.”
Unity Christian finished the regular season undefeated last fall before being upset by Holland in the opening round of the Division 2 district tournament.
Unity Christian is poised for another strong season this fall, having won its first five games of the year before scrambling back to tie Grand Haven on Wednesday.
“Grand Haven is a very good team,” Crusaders’ coach Randy Heethuis said. “They’ve got very good team speed, good size. They’re physical. This was a very good test for us.”
Unity Christian actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the opening half. The Bucs struck back a few minutes later when Jacob VanderLaan set up Nate Rose’s scoring chance. Rose’s shot was stopped by the Unity goalie, but Grand Haven’s Andrew Byrne was there to pound home the rebound, tying the game at 1-1.
The Buccaneers controlled the remainder of the first half, and had several nice scoring chances, including long shots by Rose and Andrew Wadaga that nearly put the Bucs on top.
Instead, the game remained deadlocked going into halftime, but that changed quickly in the second half.
Eight minutes after halftime, the Bucs had a direct kick from 30 yards out. The ball was cleared away by Unity’s defense but came right out to Buitenhuis, who stopped the ball with his chest, then blazed a volley into the left corner of the net for a 2-1 advantage.
“I was just waiting for it to come out to me, and I let it fly,” Buitenhuis said. “I was just hoping their goalie wouldn’t be there.”
Grand Haven played well in the midfield and on defense for most of the second half, but as the game moved on, Unity devoted more players to the attack, and the Crusaders finally broke through with 7:01 remaining. Unity sent a ball in behind the Bucs’ defense, where Jake Love was able to control the ball, then slot a shot past charging Bucs’ goalie Ethan Beswick to tie the game at 2-2.
The Bucs had a few chances to break that tie in the closing minutes, including a pair of corner kicks in the final minute, but couldn’t get a ball into the back of the net.
“We were at that point where we felt pretty comfortable late in the game, but they’re a strong team, a fast team,” said Grand Haven coach Aaron Dean. “You get into that last 15, 10 minutes, and you start to think, ‘Let’s hang on.’ We had a little bit of a miscommunication in the back and they got the ball in. Ethan made a nice effort for it, but when it’s one-on-one with the goalie, that’s tough.”
Dean credited midfielder Gerrit Schaap with playing a solid game. Defenders Ryan Schoonover, Matt Davis, Nick Kline, Kevin Lacroix and Andrew Wadaga played well for most of the game, especially considering they’re still learning to play together.
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven scored a 3-0 win over Unity Christian, with Jon Buitenhuis, Brentton Smith and Connor Davison all scoring first-half goals for the Bucs. Adrian Chavez, Christian Dault and Zack Thomas had assists for the Bucs, while Chris Semrinec and Alex Ayers helped preserve the shutout.