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Riding a 16-game winning streak, Walled Lake Central took care of business in a shootout against Rochester in the Division 1 boys soccer regional semifinal Wednesday evening at Flint Atwood Stadium, 2-1.

Central (20-1-2) won the shootout, 3-2, to advance to the regional final Saturday against the winner of Midland Dow and Grand Blanc.

Not only has Central won 17 straight games, but it had also shut out 16 straight opponents and 19 of the last 20 teams it has faced.

The pressure of the lengthy shutout streak didn’t phase Central, though.

“I think after a little while, we started to embrace it,” head coach Joel Sharpe said.

Nik Palafox scored the first goal 27 minutes into the first half.

Just minutes into the second half, Central allowed the tying goal to Rochester (15-3-4), ending the scoreless streak of nearly two months.

That’s not something Sharpe was worried about.

“I just told my team, ‘You guys have got to keep working. It’s no big deal,’ ” Sharpe said. “As big of a game as it was, we knew were going to get scored on eventually. We can’t be distraught by it.”

The defense remained strong, keeping Rochester off the scoreboard for the rest of regulation and overtime, leading to a shootout.

Brian Ostepanko has been the goaltender behind all of the shutouts this season and he had another stellar performance, stopping 4-of-6 Rochester shots in the shootout.

“Obviously (the shutouts) take a little bit of luck,” Sharpe said. “(Ostepanko) does a great job of controlling his box.”

While the defense has been solid, the key to the run has been the experience by senior captains Alex Dalou and Karl Pavadia.

“Experience helps,” Sharpe said. “They just have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Despite needing time to catch his breath after what he called “one of the craziest shootouts I’ve ever been involved in,” Sharpe says his team will get back to work this week leading up to the regional final.

Losing the first game of the year and not once since, Central has learned from early struggles to become a Division 1 favorite.

“It was the best thing that happened to us because it reminded us that we weren’t as good as we thought,” Sharpe said. “We’re going to come out (this week) and we’re going to work. We knew we had something special to start the season.”

Connor Muldowney is a freelance writer.

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