Updated: Dec 6, 2022
The Croswell-Lexington boys soccer team led 1-0 at the half, but by the time 11 minutes remained in regulation, North Branch had taken a 3-1 lead.
As the Pioneers’ have focused on all season, however, there’s 80 minutes in a match, and they made the most of each one in last night’s final BWAC matchup.
“Our team warm-up shirts have a slogan on the back, ‘80 Minutes,’ and this epitomized that 80 minutes,” Cros-Lex head coach Ken Nelson said. “It’s not over until the whistle blows.”
North Branch hosted the Pioneers last night in a regular season finale full of game-changing plays and momentum shifts. Ultimately, the two teams would tie 3-3.
Cros-Lex senior Zachary Kroestch put the Pioneers ahead with a goal on an assist from senior James Witham with 24 minutes left in the first half, and the score would remain so until midway through the second.
“The effort in the first half wasn’t very good, but in the second half we really came out and pushed it hard,” North Branch senior Landen Swoish said.
As the clock approached the 20-minute mark, the Broncos seemed to play with a heightened sense of urgency, sparked by their senior leaders. Alejandro Lopez scored to tie the game 1-1 and with 15:45 left, fellow senior Eli Liebler netted another one for a 2-1 lead.
“It was the second goal of my career so I was pretty hyped. I thought it was game-changing,” Liebler said. “I thought we could’ve won. I think we probably should’ve had a couple more goals in the first half, but I think we did alright.”
And with 11 minutes left, Swoish all but secured a North Branch victory as he found the net for a 3-1 lead.
“They’re a very good team and they beat us 4-1 to earlier, I think we could’ve beaten them today, but we played excellent soccer,” Nelson said. “We took it back which is hard to do once they start burying goals, but that 80 minutes proves we could come back.”
This time it was Whitham’s turn to score for the Pioneers. Not only did it narrow the deficit to 3-2, but it also sparked new life into the Cros-Lex offense. With eight minutes remaining, they began to control the pace with numerous shots on goal. Finally, with 1:41 to go, freshman Corbin Allen scored through a crowd of players to tie the game.
“We feel good with a tie. We were hoping for a win, we wanted to win, but it’s been a good group of boys and seniors,” Nelson said. “This second half of the BWAC we’ve owned it.”
Cros-Lex finished the second half of the season 5-2-1, which included a four-game win streak. The Pioneers will complete the regular season at 7-6-2 overall and place fourth in the league at 5-5-2.
North Branch will finished third in conference play with a 6-4-2 record, 10-5-2 overall. Now the two teams will begin preparing for the district tournament.
“It means a lot. [Playing soccer] is something I’ve been doing all my life, so to see it come to an end is kind of bittersweet,” Liebler said. “I’ve played with these guys my whole life, I’ve played with Landen since kindergarten.”
“This is my last time on this field,” Swoish said. “I’ve been here for four years, as you’re moving on up you don’t really see how fast it goes.”
Cros-Lex has a bye in the first round of the Division 3, District 43 tournament and will play the host, Frankenmuth, in the semifinal on Monday, Oct. 17. North Branch will start the Division 2, District 28 against Carman-Ainsworth on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
“We’re playing Carman-Ainsworth, they’re a super good opponent,” Swoish said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are, they’ve got a bunch of good players, so we need to go in there with confidence and try to take the W.”
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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