Following its 2-0 regional championship victory over Mason, where both goals were netted in the final 40 minutes, Gull Lake coach Jeff Corstange called his squad a second-half team.
During Wednesday’s Division 2 state semifinal girls’ soccer matchup with Spring Lake, the Blue Devils proved it could be an overtime team as well.
Gull Lake picked up a 1-0 win over Spring Lake following 20 extra minutes of action and earned the right to play for a state title Saturday afternoon at Williamston High School.
“That was huge, going to the state finals you can’t feel any better or any prouder of the girls and what they accomplished,” Corstange said.
With 4:43 on the clock in the first overtime, senior Kendy Sosnoski took a pass from 33 yards out, wound up and sailed a high ball over the hands of Spring Lake keeper Nora Reed, giving the Blue Devils (20-1-1) the deciding goal of the contest.
“In overtime both teams were tired, both teams were feeling it towards the end there, but both of these teams are in really good shape and we kept telling the girls just to shoot, something’s going to go in,” Corstange said.
The strike that went in came following an aggressive, physical and evenly matched 85 minutes of play. But the game-winning shot was pure catharsis for the senior and her teammates who had trouble mounting any lasting attacks during regulation, not that Sosnoski felt any pressure in hitting her sixth goal of the year.
“Early in the season I had a couple like that. I wouldn’t say I’m used to them, I do have to warm up a little bit, you just got to feel it. I love the game, I love it so much,” Sosnoski said.
Despite being blanked, Spring Lake (19-3) nearly put up goals twice during regulation, but both times were unable to capitalize on high quality looks.
At the 31:40 mark of the second half, Gull Lake keeper Maggie Harma misplayed a short kick, leaving the net to make a play on an attacking Laker forward, however the Spring Lake kick bounced over the junior keepers head and dribbled towards the goal.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, what could have been a heartbreaking score, turned out to be a simple, if harmless, lapse in judgment when the ball hit casually off the left upright and eventually out of bounds.
“Sometimes the ball bounces one way or another and fortunately for us it bounced away. That is one of those things, it’s a game of inches and it proved it right there,” Corstange said.
The second Laker chance happened when Spring Lake’s Leeann Latsch led a two-on-one break with six minutes remaining.
The senior wound up and took a rope towards the goal, with the shot being knocked down by sophomore Annie Walbridge who took the ball hard to the face, preventing a possible go-ahead score and drawing a rousing ovation from the Gull Lake faithful.
Beyond those two chances, the Blue Devils were able to mostly control the game’s tempo against a Spring Lake club that primarily played five back in an attempt to neutralize Gull Lake’s team speed.
“We’re a defensive type team, we dug in and played defense quite a bit. We gave up a good shot from quite a ways out. That’s kind of been the bane of our season, we’ve had that happen a couple of times,” Spring Lake head coach Jeremy Thelen said. “We had our chances. I thought the last 10 minutes of regulation we had them, we were running at them. That overtime kind of got us a bit.”
The Lakers were playing in its first-ever state semifinal but it will be the Blue Devils that are now headed to the state championship, its first trip to the finals since 1999. With one game left to play, Gull Lake has already notched the school’s all-time single season win record.
Wednesday’s win didn’t come easy and Corstange knew it.
“Give credit to them, Spring Lake is one of the best teams we’ve faced all year long. We knew that we were going to be in a dog fight. It was a great battle between two great teams,” Corstange said.