Onto The Finals!
Lions blank Yotes in conference semis
Story and photos by Tara Hefferan
The postseason CSAA Tournament continued on Wednesday, May 17, as Newaygo Lions Soccer hosted the visiting Reed City Coyotes. With a 5-0 score, the Lions emerged victorious, securing their spot in Friday’s finals match.
The last time the two teams met, the Lions scored five goals while holding the Coyotes scoreless. That history might have factored into Coyote game strategy on Wednesday, as the Coyotes assumed a defensive posture from the opening kick-off. Packing the box with defenders, Reed City worked to intercept balls and block shooting lanes as a primary tactic, leaving their offensive press to the occasional transition play. Yet, with the technical ability to pass and shoot in tight spaces, the Lions were able to break down the Coyote’s defense with patient ball circulation.
The first goal came with 28:54 left in the half, when Lynnea Briones and Connelly Hefferan Nordlund executed a give and go sequence that put Hefferan Nordlund dribbling toward goal. Threading the needle, Hefferan Nordlund sent the ball through three defenders to Grace Painter. Painter got a touch, then slammed the ball into the lower corner of the net. The Lions were on the board 1-0.
The next twenty minutes saw the Lions continuing to pressure goal, sending in a number of shots. The effort bore fruit with 8:06 on the clock, when Maddie Couch intercepted the ball in the midfield. Couch centered the ball to Hefferan Nordlund, who dribbled to the top of the 18-yard box. Briones made a perfectly timed run, surging toward net. With the Coyotes keeper patrolling on the right, Briones slid the ball into the left corner. The Lions were ahead 2-0.
With 4:24 left in the half, Painter dribbled up the right side of the field, sending in a shot. The ball bounced off the Coyote defense, and into Hefferan Nordlund’s path. With the Reed City keeper again on the right side of the net, Hefferan Nordlund made a controlled pass into the lower left corner. This had the Lions up 3-0 at the half.
The Lions continued their offensive assault in the second half, scoring again with 30:29 on the clock. Belen Torres dribbled in from the midfield and sent the ball toward net. As the ball bounced around the top of the box, Painter pounced, burying it from the 18-yard line. The Lions were ahead 4-0.
The final goal of the match came with 28:16 left. Painter took a corner kick, dropping it into the box for McCaiden Rienstra. Rienstra crashed the net with precision timing, blasting the ball into the corner. The game ended 5-0, with the Lions having put forward 19 shots in the first half and 18 shots in the second half. Reed City made just one incursion into Lion territory, with Keeper Barbara Toth scooping up the ball at the edge of the box. This was Toth’s 12th shutout of the season.
The Lions closed the evening celebrating the team’s eight seniors, who will graduate next week. Honored with flowers and gifts, the senior group includes Lynnea Briones, Sofia Briggs, McCaiden Rienstra, Grace Painter, Connelly Hefferan Nordlund, Barbara Toth, Yuri Kasugai, and Josie Hilden.
Commenting on senior night, Coach Matt Painter said, “Senior night has always been a nice night. However, I have to admit that this one was special. I’ve watched this group grow up together on the field ever since they were little. Coaching them the past 4 years has been so rewarding! Yes, they have been successful in terms of wins and losses, but their personalities and the way they make practice fun…it’s hard to quantify that! I will miss this group of young ladies! That being said, the girls coming up bring their own unique style and personality!!”
The Lions advance to the CSAA Tournament Finals on Friday, May 19 at 4:30. They will play at home against Tri County. The Lions currently have an overall record of 15-0-1 and conference record of 9-0-0. Tri County sits at 14-1-1 overall, and 7-1-0 in conference play, with their sole loss to the Lions. Friday’s match will determine the CSAA Tournament winner.
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