“Chad Buitenhuis sot it, the goalie gave it a little tip, it hit the post, and I got the rebound and put it in the back of the net,” said VanderLaan, who now has five goals in state tournament play. “It landed right at my feet, so I just tried to hit it on frame, at the corner, and hopefully the goalie isn’t able to get there on time.”
Troy refused to go down quietly, staging a furious rally to tie the game in the closing minutes, but Grand Haven goalie Ethan Beswick made one nice save on a long shot through traffic, then received a bit of help from the crossbar with just 20 seconds remaining.
As a result, the Buccaneers (18-1-3) earned their first-ever trip to the state finals. They’ll face Canton (23-1-2), a 1-0 winner over Warren DeLaSalle on Wednesday.
“This is the greatest,” said Grand Haven sophomore Gerrit Schaap, whose tireless work in the midfield helped Grand Haven control the tempo of the game. “I’m speechless right now. Our defense was outstanding tonight. I’m really proud of them.”
The Bucs’ midfield was also outstanding, winning a majority of the 50-50 balls. Schaap showed just how hard the Bucs were willing to work as he ducked down and darted through the legs of a taller Troy player to win a loose ball.
“I just wanted to be first to the ball, so I crawled through his legs, did whatever I could,” he said with a laugh. “I just wanted to get to the ball first.”
The Buccaneers controlled play for the first 30 minutes of the game, and VanderLaan had his team’s most dangerous scoring chance in the opening half as he took a feed near the 18-yard line and fired a shot that Smolinski dove to knock wide of the goal.
Momentum slowly shifted toward Troy in the closing minutes of the half, and the Colts got two strong shots in on Beswick, both of which the Bucs’ keeper smothered to keep the game scoreless at halftime.
It didn’t take the Buccaneers long to break that tie in the second half. Off the opening kick, Grand Haven played the ball to Buitenhuis, who made a long run down the left side and fired a shot that Smolinski sprawled out and tipped into the post. The ball came out right to VanderLaan, who hit a quick before Smolinski could get back on his feet.
We were able to get the rebound off the post and that was crucial,” Grand Haven coach Aaron Dean said. “The kids’ relentlessness in following it up was key. Jake was able to put it in, and that’s what great goal scorers do.”
The Bucs had a fantastic chance to take a 2-0 lead with 28 minutes remaining. A corner kick by Willie Bennick was headed toward Troy’s goal by Matt Davis. His header banged off the crossbar and came right to Schaap, whose header also hit off the crossbar and fell into a scrum in front of the goal. Ian Yetzke’s shot was headed into the net, only to hit off the arm of Troy defender Jacob Meissner.
That resulted in a yellow card for Meissner and a penalty kick for the Bucs. VanderLaan, who scored on a PK against Forest Hills Central in the regional final, again got the call, but this time, Smolinski was up to the challenge, diving to his right to make the save.
“Their goalie had a tremendous game,” VanderLaan said. “He stole possible four goals. I have to give it to him on that one, but the one (goal) got us through.”
Dean credited his defense with coming up big against Troy, especially with a pair of starters regulated to the bench for much of the second half. Sophomore Nick Kline was hurt in a collision with a Colts’ player with 24:45 remaining, and senior Matt Davis went off with cramps 10 minutes later.
Andrew Wadaga and Ryan Schoonover moved onto the back line along with Kevin Lacroix and kept Troy from mounting many good scoring chances until the closing moments.
“It all starts with Ethan being such a talented goal tender, then we put guys in front of him who defend like their lives depend on it,” Dean said.
Troy coach Brian Zawislak said his team did nearly everything he asked of it.
“If we went through the game plan on the board, we could check off most of the things we wanted to do,” Zawislak said. “Obviously, shut down No. 16 (VanderLaan) was on that list, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Dean now begins the difficult task of learning all he can about Canton before Saturday’s title game.
“We want to know their style of play so we don’t get caught off guard,” he said. “Once we get this far in the tournament, every team is good, and we’ve been fortunate to play some great opponents. We’ll just try to keep it going.”