Coaches love to say that soccer is a game of inches, and never was that more true than on Wednesday night.
An inch this way or that and it could easily have been the Lakers of Spring Lake heading to the Division 2 girls soccer state championship for the first time.
Instead, it was Richland Gull Lake that came away with a 1-0 victory in Wednesday’s semifinal contest at Plainwell High School, scoring that lone goal in overtime to earn a trip to Saturday’s title game.
The Blue Devils’ game winner came early in the first of two 10-minute overtime sessions when midfielder Kendy Sosnoski drilled a shot from 40 yards out that dipped inches below the crossbar and inches above the outstretched fingers of Lakers’ goalie Ayna Gordon.
“We gave it everything we had, but that goal was a killer,” Thelen said. “That kind of goal has been the bane of our season.”
If the Lakers had gotten the benefit of an inch here or there early in the second half, the game would have never gone to overtime.
Spring Lake came painfully close to breaking a scoreless tie 10 minutes after halftime when Alex Prout’s long free kick took a high bounce and bounded over the head of Gull Lake goalie Maggie Harma.
The ball appeared to be heading toward the left goal post, with a pair of Lakers — Nora Adkins and Makenzie Price — giving frantic chase. Adkins, while being pulled down by Harma, managed to nudge the ball with her shin, but instead of sliding inside the left post, the ball bounced off the post and back onto the field of play.
“That was fortunate for us that the bounce went our way,” said Gull Lake coach Jeff Corstagne, whose team will face Bloomfield Hills Marian for the state title on Saturday.
“It’s a game of inches.”
The Lakers played without senior captain Molly Miedema for most of the game. Miedema, a four-year varsity starter who tore a ligament in her knee last week, made an appearance for a few minutes in the first half but wasn’t able to keep up with the pace of the game.
In her absence, Lakers’ senior Leeann Latsch played a tremendous game, operating at a frantic pace up and down the field. She won balls on the defensive end and created chances on the offensive end.
She was responsible for one of the Lakers’ best attacks when she pounced on a loose ball midway through the second half and blasted a shot that appeared to be headed for the corner of the goal before it slammed into the face of Gull Lake defender Annie Walbridge.
“It’s hard to lose a game like this,” Latsch said after the game. “They’re a good team, but we were in it. I’m disappointed that we’re the first (Spring Lake) team to make it this far, only to lose.”
Latsch said nerves may have played a part in the Lakers’ shaky start to the game as Gull Lake dominated possession for the first 10-15 minutes.
But once the Lakers gained their composure, they were equally as talented as the Blue Devils.
“We found ourselves a little bit, found our control,” Latsch said. “The first 15 minutes were a little rough, but we’ve never been here before. This is a new experience for us.
“I’m most proud of my team for pulling through and keeping at it.”
After Gull Lake scored the go-ahead goal, Spring Lake put all its emphasis into scoring the equalizer, but never managed a dangerous attack in the final 16 minutes of play.
“That last overtime just flew by,” Latsch said. “Especially the last five minutes. We had no time to gather our thoughts.”
Thelen was clearly disappointed in the outcome but couldn’t fault his team for its effort on a warm night in front of a passionate crowd.
“It hurts,” he said. “Sure, we’re tired, but I thought actually the last 10 minutes of regulation, we were in on them. It came down to a few bounces. We had one down there than almost went in.
“Everybody, top to bottom, we went 17 kids deep today and they all battled,” he said. “I really want to credit our six seniors. Losing Molly hurt us tonight.”
While quality scoring chances were few and far between, Gordon was called on to make a few big saves, and she came through, including a nice stop of a high hard shot that she knocked down to keep the game scoreless in the second half.
Middle defender Alex Prout was outstanding at thwarting the Blue Devils’ attack, and in the midfield, Morgan Carey was once again dominant in the air, winning several balls and helping to disrupt Gull Lake’s offensive pushes.
On the offensive side, Mariada Gezon, Adkins and Price had several dangerous runs, but were unable to capitalize.
“Kudos to them, that’s an awesome team,” Corstange said. “This was a great battle between two great teams.”
The Lakers will miss the contributions of Latsch, Miedema, Hailey Pellegrom, Brooke TenBrink, Abby Dockery and Emily Marine. However, the future remains bright for a team that had three freshmen — Carey, Adkins and Saebryn Peel — contribute significantly throughout its tournament run, not to mention five sophomores who started Wednesday’s game.