Athens wins second straight shootout, 2-1, over Rochester in Division 1 semifinal
Troy – With a trip to the Division 1 state final on the line, Tensions were high between Oakland Activities Association Red Division rivals Troy Athens and Rochester on Wednesday. A trip to the Division 1 final was on the line and both teams played with nervous excitement.
Both teams had a tough time creating scoring chances or even gaining much possession in the opposing third of the field.
After Rochester (15-4-5) took an early 1-0 lead, it was a poised Athens team that prevailed, 2-1, in a Division 1 semifinal at Troy High.
The teams were tied 1-1 after regulation and Athens won in a shootout, its second consecutive shootout victory.
Athens will play East Kentwood (15-3-5) in the final on Saturday at Comstock Park at 3 p.m.
East Kentwood defeated Novi, 1-0, in the other semifinal.
Shamik Patel stepped in as the final shooter for Athens, and put his shot right down the middle to advance his team to the state final as Athens won the shootout, 5-3.
“I mean as a team we never fold once were down 1-0,” Patel said. “We’re always in it mentally and we know we’re going to come back into a game.”
Due to an officiating error, Athens (19-4-2) was forced to replay the shootout session of the regional final against Macomb Dakota on Tuesday, leaving coach Todd Heugh confident in his players to pull out another victory on Wednesday.
“I told the kids going into it,” Heugh said. “I’m certain they watched us on Friday night take penalties. I’m certain they watched us yesterday take penalties and if they weren’t there yesterday, it was all over all of the news stations. I told the guys, ‘go for it, hit it, I love you.’”
Rochester midfielder Demetri Pliakos gave his team a 1-0 lead with 22:25 left in the first half. It was a terrific individual effort, where Pliakos stole the ball in Athens territory, dribbled up the field and buried the shot in the bottom left corner on Rochester’s first shot of the game.
In the second half, Athens started to gain momentum in the offensive zone, and Andrew Nord finally scored with 20:51 remaining off a rebound.
“It felt incredible, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Nord said. “It’s all about the team. We’ve worked really hard, so I say ‘why not us?’ Every time before every game I say ‘why not us?’”
Athens had three shots on goal in the second half, Rochester had none, and it required a tremendous save by Rochester goalie Brad Carlson to keep the game tied with 10 seconds left in the game.
Each team had only one scoring chance in the two overtime periods, but neither capitalized.
“We gave up that goal early and kind of refocused,” Heugh said. “We played without our leading scorer and it has just been next man up, next man up, and I felt that when the game got sloppy, we got a little relentless and to get that tying goal, obviously was huge.”
Andy Filips led off the shootout for Athens and tucked his shot away in the bottom right corner. Pliakos shot first for Rochester, and his attempt was saved by Athens goalie Mason Maziasz.
Both Athens and Rochester made their next two attempts, so Athens led 3-2.
Anish Saraswat took the fourth attempt for Athens, and Carlson made a great initial save, but did not get quite enough of the ball as it bounced into the back of the net.
With one game left to go, Heugh is excited about the opportunity Athens has not had in 19 years and isn’t looking forward to another shootout.
“Absolutely not,” Heugh said. “I’m in my mid-40’s. I’m in heart attack range. I don’t have too many left in me.”