BOYS SOCCER: Top-ranked Athens terminates Stevenson in battle of unbeatens
BY DAN STICKRADT
TROY — The boys soccer postseason can often provide quite a different type atmosaphere than the regular season.
Wednesday night certainly provided the do or die atmosphere that only the state tournament can showcase. Two unbeaten teams faced off, as top-ranked Troy Athens hosted No. 9-ranked Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Division 1 district semifinal.
Athens built a 2-0 lead midway through the second half and hung on for a 2-1 victory over the Titans.
“This is what makes the state tournament so special,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh, who has coached in three different state finals games and played in another during his career. “It’s the only time where you can have two unbeaten teams with so much on the line. We had a great regular season going 19-0 and nobody can take that away from us. But this is a whole new season and anything can happen.”
Athens will face Utica (15-5-3) in the district finals Saturday at 1 p.m. in the district finals, but not before some intense moments. Both teams had some quality chances down the stretch, with Athens’ Bryan Lawson getting stopped cold by a vertical Stevenson goaltender Ken Kutschman in the 70th minute, while Stevenson senior Neil Martorani banged a shot off the crossbar with 26:01 remaining that would have tied the game at 1-all.
Trailing 2-0, Martorani scored his 24th goal of the season, lacing a shot in the corner from 15 yards out with 23:26 remaining that cut the deficit down to a goal.
Athens had taken its two-goal advantage only 12 seconds earlier when senior Luis Anaya tapped in a close-range shot following a pass from senior Tyler Gasko.
A 2-0 lead is crazy. We were pushing for a third goal but credit to Stevenson. They really pressured us,” said Heugh. “I thought they did a good job of taking us out of our rhythm.”
Stevenson, the MAC Red Division champion, suffered its first and only loss of the season and finished a fine 15-1-2.
Sophomore Massimo Barczys gave Athens the 1-0 lead with 6:04 left in the first half, when he placed a left-footed shot inside the far post following a short pass from the corner by Marc Hebbeker.
Athens outshot Stevenson 14-12 in the contest, including 8-7 with shots directly on frame, and held a 3-2 edge on cornerkicks. Senior Aaron Nufer made seven saves for Athens, while Kutschman had six saves for Stevenson.
Stevenson bowed out despite a valiant effort against one of the state’s premier programs.
“They weren’t ready to give in at all,” said Stevenson coach Bob Mondoux. “We hit the crossbar and had some other good chances. Athens is a really good team. We played them really tough and I thought we controlled play the last 20 minutes or so. We just couldn’t tie it up. We had only one loss this season. How can you complain about that?”