Motivated Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central returns to D2 title game after two straight finals losses, rolls over Forest Hills Eastern
HOWELL — Losing in a state final can do wonders for motivating a team the next year. So can losing two years in a row.
It sure fueled the fire for Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central this season.
After losing in the 2017 MHSAA Division 2 state finals to East Grand Rapids (11-9) and again to the same opponent in 2018 (11-10 defeat in double overtime), the top-ranked Rangers seized moment in 2019 with a record-setting performance Saturday in the D-2 state finals at Howell Parker Middle School.
Forest Hills Central, whose only loss this season came to Division 1 state champion Birmingham Brother Rice (16-10) in just the sixth game of the season, set the MHSAA D-2 state finals record on goal-differential (16) by topping crosstown rival Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern, 20-4.
The previous D-2 record was eight goals set by Birmingham Detroit Country Day in 2011 (13-5 victory over East Grand Rapids).
The Rangers tied the overall MHSAA state finals record of goals differential at 16. Birmingham Brother Rice won by 16 goals in the 2014 Division 1 state finals (23-7 over Novi Detroit Catholic Central).
“What a great accomplishment,” smiled Forest Hills Central coach Andy Shira. “Ever since the beginning of the season this has been our goal — really since Christmas break when we started conditioning. We came up (agonizingly) short last year and the goal was to get back here and win it this time.”
This contest was never in doubt.
Forest Hills Central (22-1-0) led 2-0 after the first quarter and 9-2 at the half. The Rangers continued to pour it on with a 5-2 run in the third stanza for 14-4 lead, then scored six more times in the fourth quarter and setting off the running clock in the process.
It marked the Rangers’ fourth MHSAA Division 2 state title in eight trips. Forest Hills Central also won in 2016, 2012 and 2010, while the Rangers lost in 2018, 2017, 2013 and 2008.
Forest Hills Central has reached the D-2 finals in eight of the past 12 seasons — more than any other program — and rank second in D-2 finals appearances since the MHSAA adopted the sport in 2005 (East Grand Rapids has nine D-2 title-game appearances).
“We have a lot of seniors and our success is that it’s not just one player but a unit,” noted Shira. “We have a lot of weapons, guys that work well together to score goals. What a special group of guys.”
Six players scored goals during the finals outburst. Senior midfielder Luke Majick scored five goals and assisted on five others to pace the Rangers. Tate Hallock added five goals and four assists, Evan Mataj scored four goals, Carson Deines had three goals and two assists, Jackson Clay chipped in two goals and two assists and Hayden Sarjeant scored one marker for Forest Hills Central.
“All of us can shoot. All of us have (field) vision. I think the one thing about us is that we are unselfish,” smiled Majick. “We don’t care about who gets the goals and assists. We just want to win.
“We just really wanted it this year. We set our minds right with hard work and were able to (win it all),” added Majick.
Sam Bowen scored twice, while Kaden Dietrich and Kevin Sprague had single goals for Forest Hills Eastern (16-7-0).
The Hawks reached the finals as a solo program for a first time. Previously with a Unified program with Forest Hills Northern, FHE lost in D-1 finals in both 2011 and 2013.
This year belonged to the Rangers, who put together one of the more memorable campaigns since boys lacrosse became an MHSAA-sponsored sport 14 years ago.
Forest Hills Central outscored its six postseason opponents by an impressive 112-18 margin and scored the first seven goals in the state finals. Over the course of the entire campaign, the Rangers outscored their 23 foes 432-227 this season — and held the final 17 opponents to single digits.
After losing to Forest Hills Central 17-4 in late April, Forest Hills Eastern coach Zach Grusell knew his team was in the pathway of a tornado.
“I used to be at Forest Hills Central before as the offensive coordinator, so I know what type of program they have and how good they are,” noted Grusell. “They are always one of the premier teams in the state. They are a senior-led team and have been here four straight years. We hope to be in their position one day, winning championships.
“We have come a long way the past couple of years and I’m proud of our guys and the run they’d this year,” continued Grusell. “We had a great season. We just got (out-manned) by a great team. We’re a young team, so hopefully we’ll learn from this and be back here in the future.”