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D2 SOCCER: Birmingham Marian wins third straight title, handing Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern its fourth straight title-game loss

By: DAN STICKRADT, June 14, 2019, 4:30 pm

EAST LANSING — Perhaps Maria Askounis picked the right time to score the biggest goal of her soccer career.

The sophomore forward from Birmingham Marian scored with 4:18 to go in the second overtime session in leading second-ranked Birmingham Marian to a thrilling, 2-1, come-from-behind victory over sixth-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in the MHSAA Division 2 state finals at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.

It took Marian 12 corner kicks over 100 minutes of action, but senior Sara Stroud’s bending corner kick into the penalty box was flicked backwards by sophomore Emily Rassel to the foot of Askounis, who tapped-home the close-range shot in traffic from two yards out for the game-winner.

“I have never scored a game-winner quite like that, not of that magnitude,” smiled Askounis. “Coach just told us to keep working and keep believing and we would get that chance. The ball came right to me, and I was able to put in in. I was so excited when that happened, I just ran over to my teammates. Time was winding down and I knew if I had a chance that I had to score.”

It marked the eighth state title in 17 years for Marian. The Mustangs (18-1-0), who lost only one game in three years and played in four straight Final Fours, joined some elite company by becoming only the sixth program to win at least three straight state titles.

Hudsonville Unity Christian did it twice, while Grandville Calvin Christian, Madison Heights Bishop Foley, Novi, and Richland-Gull Lake each won three straight MHSAA crowns the since the state tournament began in 1983.

“It’s special to be able to do this,” said Marian coach Barry Brodsky. “It’s never easy just to win a district. But here we are winning three straight state championships. In the past when we won two straight, we turned around the next year and lost in the first game of districts. So this group did an amazing job getting us here three straight years. And we lost in the state semis the year before that (2016).

“I can’t say enough about accomplishing this,” continued Brodsky. “It’s so hard just to get here. Some teams just have that extra (ingredient) and I think Northern has it as well. Hats off to them getting here four times in a row. That is not easy. They are a worthy opponent.

“Before we had some two girls win two straight and three overall, but never three in a row like this,” said Brodsky. “Now we have seven more girls who can say they won three state championships.”

Marian held a 19-13 total shots edge in the game, including 11-7 with shots on frame, and its commanding 12-3 advantage on corner kicks finally paid off in the end.

Down 1-0 at the half, Marian finally netted the equalizer with 35:17 remaining in regulation. Senior Katie Sullivan’s cross was flicked by senior Jansen Eichenlaub over to Rassel, who cashed in the game-tying chip.

The Mustangs, who lost only one game over the past three years, outshot Northern 9-3 in the second half and 5-4 in the two overtime periods. Senior Morgan Cochran misfired on two breakaways in the first overtime periods.

Eichenlaub, one of the leading candidates for Miss Soccer, left the game with 22 minutes remaining in regulation, and did not return.

“We had a ton of chances,” said Brodsky. “I felt that if we just kept getting corner kicks and restarts that we could get in another goal. We were finally able to do that in overtime.”

Forest Hills Northern (19-3-1), which was coming off a 2-1 shootout win over No. 9 Marshall in Tuesday’s state semifinals, scored first in the fifth minute of the contest.

Following a long counterattack pass from junior Alyssa Greshak, sophomore Grace Myers was able to beat her mark, cut into the box and uncorked a shot into the far post from 15 yards out with 34:21 to go in the first half.

The Huskies could not solve Marian senior keeper Megan Kraus again. Kraus had six saves in the win, including stymying Northern junior Elise DeShryver on two shots in the second half.

Forest Hills Northern lost in the D-2 finals for the fourth straight season and six times in eight school years including two finals defeats by the Huskies’ boys soccer program.

“It’s not about me,” sighed Forest Hills Northern coach Daniel Saminski. “I am proud of each of those teams. We had great efforts getting here and we played a little better each time here. We’re getting older and more mature. We only had two seniors this season and two seniors last season. Hopefully we can make another run at it next year.

“Losing to a team like Marian — they’re tough. One of the best teams in the state every year,” added Saminski. “We had some chances this time, unlike a couple of years ago when were were really dominated. We are getting better and maybe one day we can come here and win it.”