Rochester — He may have scored 32 times this season, but Ryan Pierson’s final goal as Detroit Catholic Central’s captain will forever be his most memorable.
His converted penalty-kick with six minutes remaining in C.C.’s first Division 1 finals appearance was the difference in a 1-0 victory Saturday that handed Walled Lake Central its first lost since opening night Aug. 19.
“The first one is definitely historic,” C.C. coach Gene Pulice said. “To be the first coach to lead a team to it is impactful, for sure.”
Pierson, a senior, was the most valuable offensive asset for C.C., using his speed and agility to create chances against a stingy Walled Lake Central team that only gave up six goals in 25 games this season, and also was playing in its first state-championship match.
“They had to man-mark him with two guys, and when you’re man-marked by two, that says something about you,” Pulice said. “But I thought he stayed composed.”
C.C.’s persistence ultimately won the day, despite a frustrating stretch of play in the second half where it seemed like it would take a miracle to beat Walled Lake Central goalkeeper Brian Ostepanko.
“We always have a mindset going into every game,” Pierson said. “No matter how late it is, no matter how bad we’re doing, or how successful we are to always stay confident.”
C.C. soccer team sings its alma mater with the student section following its 1-0 win over Walled Lake Central. Nolan Bianchi, Special to The Detroit News
After the first half, it became evident the first goal would most likely be the last. Both teams implored a defensive strategy that allowed the opposition to control the ball on the perimeter while keeping the box as congested as possible.
C.C. dominated the second half and gave up just one shot on goal during that time, a weak ball easily corralled by goalkeeper Andrew Nicholsen, who entered the game at halftime.
“We wanted to force the ball a little bit, but at halftime that was our biggest conversation: Just be composed; it’ll come,” said Pulice, who added the only change in his team’s second-half performance was more efficient execution.
Pulice said his team’s defensive strategy was to keep the backline connected, and not let anybody behind the ball.
“I’m very confident in my backline,” Pulice added. “The big deal today for us, was can we put the ball in the back of the net with their defensive posture?”
Eight minutes into the second half, Walled Lake Central defensive captain Karl Tavadia, who was tasked with shadowing Pierson, went down in the box with an injury and did not return to the game. After the restart, Tavadia’s absence was painfully noticeable. Pierson and company attacked the box, resulting in multiple corner kicks that wore out Walled Lake Central’s defense.
“We use our corner kicks as a tool a lot of the time,” Pierson said. “It put them under a lot of pressure, it made them get more nervous, and the more we were inching toward their goal, I knew we were going to get one eventually.”
Walled Lake Central’s best scoring chance came in the final minute of the first half. A cross found the foot of K.C. Fegely right in front of the cage, but his attempt rang off the crossbar and landed just in front of the goal line. The ensuing chaos was halted when a diving Kevin Blossfeld, who started the game in net for Catholic Central, smothered the ball.
From that point on, C.C.’s ability to push the ball compromised Walled Lake Central’s noted defensive talent.
And while a few C.C. players were pining for a day off of school during the award ceremony as a reward for their victory, it looks like they’ll all have to be in class Monday — but at least they’ll show up with a trophy in hand.
Holland 3, East Lansing 0: At Comstock Park, after a 40 minutes of scoreless play, second-half goals from Daniel Arellano, Jose Penaloza and Sam Accardo lifted Holland (19-5-2) to its first state title. Accardo and Arellano also assisted on the second and third goals, respectively. East Lansing finished 17-10-1.
Flint Powers Catholic 4, Ludington 2: At Comstock Park, Dominic Ruth scored the winning goal in the first half after Garret Delamielleure got Powers (21-1-2) out to an early 2-0 lead. Goals from Noah Peterson and Lucien Chasse drew Ludington (18-5-2) within striking distance, but Connor Boerman converted a penalty kick just moments after Chasse's goal to end Ludington’s comeback hopes.
Ann Arbor Greenhills 1, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep 0: At Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, an 88-minute weather delay kept the score knotted at zero during a lengthy halftime. But when the clouds parted, Jerry Tucker caused a storm of his own by burying a corner kick sent in by Matthew Pumphrey for Greenhills (20-6-1). Hackett finished with a record of 19-2-2.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood 7, Detroit Mumford 0: Jack Fairman led Cranbrook's defense with 10.5 tackles plus one of Cranbrook's three interceptions, and Kobe Russell caught five passes for 55 yards and the game-winning touchdown in a Division 4 district final.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.