GRAND HAVEN – To soccer coaches, some of the most important moments of a match come in the five minutes before and after halftime. Grand Haven used that time to great effect on Thursday, scoring twice right before halftime on their way to a 3-1 win over Grandville. 

“In our practices, we’ve been working a lot on creating space,” Grand Haven head coach Nick Tejchma said. “We did a decent job capitalizing on our opportunities tonight.”

Grand Haven might have been unlucky not to be up by two or three goals at the half, hitting a post twice in the first half and controlling most of the play on the attacking end. It was the Bulldogs who had the first major chance of the game as Noah Lovely’s shot was well saved by the Bucs’ Jack Kurburski. That shot 9 minutes into the game was one of two Bulldogs shots in the first half.

From there, Grand Haven went to work. Junior Emmarean Banks was the first one to hit a post for the Bucs, as he cut inside and found space to shoot. His right-footed effort beat Caleb Farney in the Grandville net, but was a few inches too high and bounced up and away for the Bulldogs to clear, but Joey Fischer was able to step in and shoot just over the crossbar.

With just under 6 minutes remaining in the half, the Bucs had their lead. After winning the ball in midfield, a pass to Charlie VanSingle was touched into the path of senior forward Jaden King. In alone with the goalkeeper, King rolled his shot into the far corner for the opening goal. 

“When we’re working as a unit, it makes it easier on everybody,” Tejchma said. “

Max Jerovsek nearly made it 2-0 a minute later, finding the crossbar with a shot from just outside the penalty area. His header from a free-kick routine was just wide, but his next one found the back of the net with 1:20 left in the first half. Zach Falconer found space down the right-hand side, and his cross fell to an unusual target in the senior midfielder.

“He’s not usually up there for headers,” VanSingle said. “I guess he was just in the right place at the right time.”

Ethan Prins, Brady McDonald and VanSingle were the source of Grand Haven’s control, winning 50/50s in the midfield and distributing well to the likes of King and Jerovsek. 

“We were strong back there,” McDonald said. “We communicated well. We didn’t have to worry about too much behind us with all the control we had. We always have things to improve.”

The second goal allowed the Bucs to play with a little added freedom following the half, not to mention the breathing space that comes with a late goal. Grand Haven found a little extra space in the opening stages of the second half, but were unable to put the game to rest with a third goal. They’d come to regret that midway through the half, as Grandville’s goal came against the flow of the game with 20 minutes to go.

A pair of Grand Haven defenders misjudged a bouncing ball, and eventually Lovely was able to  the ball inside the penalty box. After turning to find space, his left-footed shot squeezed around Kurburski and in for 2-1. 

That prompted a Grand Haven response, as the intensity of the game was turned up a notch with both teams’ seasons on the line. The Bucs continued to control possession, and kept applying pressure. Banks saw a shot fly just over the crossbar, and had a free kick saved not long after.

In the end, it was VanSingle who provided the cross for Jerovsek to secure the result for the Bucs. After collecting on the right wing, he had time to look up and send a left-footed cross he called ‘the best of my life.’

Jerovsek was on hand at the back post to head home for 3-1, and the goal with 7 minutes left sealed the game for Grand Haven. 

“I saw the defender coming at me and I just tried to bend it,” VanSingle said. “It was a team effort up front, our communication was up, so that helped a lot. Everyone knew where they needed to be and when they had to be there.”

“It felt great,” Jerovsek said. “Now we’re at districts, everyone goes all out. We hit the post a bunch, so we were glad when they started going in.”

Now, Rockford awaits in a district tournament game at Hudsonville. In both conference games, it was the road team that won, with Tuesday’s rubber match taking place at a neutral site.

“I think we’re confident,” Tejchma said. “The boys are looking good, and we’re healthy. We’ve been building to this point all season. We just need to keep our intensity up on Tuesday.”

Tuesday’s match is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. at Hudsonville.

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