BOYS SOCCER: Youthful Unity Christian downs top-ranked Grosse Ile in D3 for fifth state crown
NOVI — Kadin Shaban heard the talk early in the season of how young Hudsonville Unity Christian was with all of its juniors and sophomores dotting the roster.
The Crusaders still completed their journey as state champs.
And with an unlikely hero to boot.
Thanks to a pair of overtime goals, second-ranked Unity Christian captured its fifth state title in seven trips with a 3-1 overtime victory over top-ranked Grosse Ile at Novi High School.
“We had those eight sophomores who were on varsity last year and we have a really good junior class,” offered Shaban, who will be one of 17 returnees next season and one of the candidates for Mr. Soccer in 2019. “I know some didn’t think we could do it, but we thought we had some good players and that it could be our year.”
The game remained tied entering the two 10-minute overtime periods, where Unity Christian pulled away.
Unity Christian finally broke the stalemate with 7:09 left in the first extra session junior midfielder Jordan Bruckbauer scooped up a loose ball in traffic and laced a shot into the goal from 12 yards out.
It was just Bruckbauer’s second goal of the season — but biggest of his prep career.
“As a player, you always picture doing something great like that,” said the defensive midfielder of his game winner. “This is a dream come true. To be able to score a goal like that in a state championship (game) is unreal.”
Ranked in the No. 2 position in the coaches association rankings all season, Unity Christian stunned the high-powered Red Devils, who rode a 23-game win streak into the state finals and outscored their previous six tournament foes, 38-1.
Unity Christian made sure it made the most of its opportunities. Grosse Ile outshot the Crusaders 11-8 in the game, including 5-4 with shots on frame, and even held a 4-2 edge with cornerkicks. Unity Christian finished off three of its four shots on frame.
“We knew about how good offensively they were, but to be honest we’re good defensively and I don’t think we gave them very many great chances and their goal was on a (deflection) in the box,” said Unity Christian coach Randy Heethuis. “Our defense and goalkeeping has been great all season long, only giving up (seven goals) with (18 shutouts).”
Grosse Ile, which found the back of the net 145 times this season, scored first with 3:24 left in the first half. Senior midfielder Christian Drzyzga scooped up the loose ball 30 yards out in front of the goal, turned and fired the ball that clipped a defenseman’s hip and into the corner of the goal.
Unity Christian answered the call when Shaban was ripped down in the box and he calmly deposited his ensuing penalty kick inside the right corner with 2:42 left in the half.
Junior goalkeeper Grant Balcer (four saves) and the Crusaders’ stingy backfield of Zach DeVries, Camden Bierling and Grayson Bierling shut down the Red Devils over the final 60 minutes, including Grosse Ile’s 52-goal scorer Jacob Sawicki and 30-goal scorer Benedek Tanyi.
“They frustrated us a little bit in the back. They are a good defensive team,” said Grosse Ile coach Jon Evans, whose team lost to Division 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit back in August and had lost since that game.
The Red Devils finished 27-2-0, but shy of their first title since 2002.
“(Unity) is very similar to U-D with their size and athleticism,” added Evans. “We knew it was going to be a battle. They won a lot of 50-50 balls and that can help change games. Then they got on the end of a couple (scoring chances) in the end. We had our chances with some corners and throw-ins, but couldn’t convert again in the second half and overtime. Hats off to Unity’s defense.”
Grosse Ile gambled late with extra attackers and Unity Christian scored an insurance tally with 7:18 left in the second overtime period. Bruckbauer’s long serve down the middle was chased down by Shaban, who converted his 31st tally of the campaign on a breakaway.