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WMC soccer team can't solve Buckley keeper in regional semifinal loss

Marc Vieau | Cadillac News • Oct 24, 2017 at 11:47 PM

CADILLAC — Soaking wet and shivering from head to toe, Joey Weber had one thing on his mind.

Getting warm.

The whole community of Buckley may, in fact, have a blanket for him.

Weber turned in an incredible performance in goal as Buckley beat Western Michigan Christian 1-0 in a penalty-kick shootout in the Division 4 regional semifinals Tuesday in Cadillac.

The win marked the Bears' first at the regional level in program history, but more importantly, sends them to the regional finals against Leland on Thursday.

Game time is 6 p.m. The Comets routed Roscommon in Tuesday's second semifinal.

That certainly gives Weber time to dry off, warm up and think about what he did Tuesday.

"It's amazing…I can't describe it," he said. "I don't really know what to do actually.

"I'm just cold, and I want to get warm. That's all I am feeling."

Weber turned in 25 saves, including one on a penalty kick in the first half and then two more in the shootout session. Several of them were point-blank shots by the Warriors, but he stayed calm and did his job.

"They have a good team, so it was stressful, but I didn't come in nervous today," Weber said. "Usually, I am nervous before games. Today, I felt good and that played a part in it."

Buckley coach John Vermilya was quite effusive with praise for his senior keeper.

"Unbelievable," he said. "He's been our Player of the Year for a while, and we have other guys, but you saw it tonight with your own eyes.

"The kid makes unreal stops. Even when we failed him, and they had a PK, he made a huge save. He's the man of the match and he's a beast."

Vermilya and his staff began planning for Western Michigan Christian last week and had to come up with a way to slow the Warriors down and handle the level of skill they'd bring.

The Bears got an assist from Mother Nature with Tuesday's cold, wet and miserable conditions that seemed to play into Buckley's hands.

"As far as the match is concerned, I don't care what anyone says, we knew what we had to do to stop this team," Vermilya said. "This is the best team we've ever played, and they're better than Leland.

"In fact, the way we played it against them is the way Leland beat them. We did the same thing, which is we're going to defend and we're going to play to our strengths and that means a perfect game from Joey.

"That's what we got."

Buckley's biggest chance to score came in the first half when Martin Nikolla rang one off the post, but other than that, it was all Western Michigan Christian.

Still, the Bears hung tough and got save after save from Weber.

The Bears got through regulation with a clean sheet and then survived two 10-minute overtime periods still scoreless.

Momentum seemed to go Buckley's way after that.

"I told them we've already won when it went to penalties," Vermilya said. "They said, ‘coach, we're not going to miss.' I love these kids."

Austin Harris drilled the first PK for the Bears before WMC answered to make it 1-1 in the shootout.

Denver Cade got his chance and didn't miss, either.

"Denver has never taken a penalty in competition, but he wants one because he's a leader and he's a competitor," Vermilya said.

The first big break came next when the WMC player rang his shot off the crossbar to keep Buckley up, 2-1.

Brock Beeman followed with another goal and it was suddenly 3-1. Weber then stopped the Warriors' next shot to make the upset seem real.

Nikolla atoned for the early miss by burying his PK and setting off a wild celebration.

"Martin wasn't originally in our first five (shooters) but if you remember in the first 10 minutes, he's the one who hit the post," Vermilya said. "Martin is like, ‘coach, I want this. I need to redeem this.'"

For Western Michigan Christian, it marks the end of an impressive 50th season as a program. The Warriors captured the Lakes Eight Conference title and upset top-ranked NorthPointe Christian to claim a district championship with 20 wins on the season.

"Although we outshot Buckley, 38-2, we couldn't find the back of the net. They never really got past half with any threat, but this game is about getting the ball in the back of the net, and we couldn't beat their keeper," said WMC head coach David Hulings. "He was phenomenal in goal. In the first 62 minutes of the game, we earned a PK when Adam VanHoeven did a great job of getting into the box. But, their keeper was right there, again, to stop Owen Alfree's shot.

"In the shootout, Evan Fles was the only shooter we had to score. Their first four shooters scored. This is on me as a coach. With a team this talented, we should not have been defeated in this way. I talk full responsibility for the disappointment this was for my seniors and team. I should have given them a better chance to win. The Warrior nation deserved a better coaching performance.

"These seniors are amazing young men. They have carried themselves so well this year. I wish I could have done better for them."

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