Novi — Bloomfield Hills Marian girls soccer is used to winning, just not this way.
Marian came into its Division 2 state semifinal match against DeWitt on Wednesday as the defending champion, sporting an undefeated record and No. 1 ranking. The school averaged more than five goals a game and had only allowed nine goals all season.
Competition tends to get tougher as a team progresses through the state playoffs, though, and Marian faithful breathed a heavy sigh of relief as time expired at Meadows Stadium, holding on for the 1-0 win over DeWitt to head back to the finals.
"It feels great to be back at it (the finals)," Marian junior forward Jansen Eichenlaub said. "We've worked hard for it all season, and we're ready to go back."
Eichenlaub, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury for the last month, got the game's lone tally for Marian (21-0-1), a tap-in off a cross from junior midfielder Sara Stroud.
"We've been stressing about going to flanks," Eichenlaub said. "Our outside mid got it wide, and all year we practiced crossing, crossing, finishing, finishing. And that's exactly what happened."
Eichenlaub, a first team all-state selection, scored with 31:56 left, and Marian kept the pressure on but couldn't get another, keeping things close right up until the final whistle.
Marian finished with a 6-3 advantage in shots and had four corner kicks while DeWitt (19-3-4) only managed to get one. Marian was dominant in the second half, even if it didn't show on the scoreboard, only allowing one DeWitt shot on goal, a slow dribbler.
Stroud, a three-year varsity player, said she was never worried but admitted some frustration crept in at her team's inability to net more than one.
"We struggled toward the end of the first half," Stroud said. "They (DeWitt) played so hard, and we haven't really had competition that was at our level this much. We had our frustrations, but we never gave up. We never doubted ourselves."
Marian coach Barry Brodsky continued with his several seasons-long superstition of not talking to media. It didn't get him a comfortable win, but it seems to be working.
Marian assistant coach Mike Schimmel felt Marian played well, despite the slim margin of victory, giving credit to DeWitt.
"They're a great team," Schimmel said. "We knew we had to attack wide and keep making them make decisions in their box, and we finally got one."
DeWitt coach Jamal Mubarakeh knew his team would face a tough test in Marian.
"I thank my seniors," Mubarakeh said, reflecting on the season. "For their leadership, time and support. They should be proud to have been part of the program."
Mubarakeh's team is young. Of its seven all-state selections, DeWitt has no seniors.
"Next year they will come in with comfort and not be scared," Mubarakeh said about his underclassmen.
That includes freshman goalie Kennedi Pugh, a second team all-state pick, who was courageous in goal on Wednesday.
"Coming into the season, I knew I would have to play as hard as I could to get a spot (on the team), and that's what's motivated me the entire season," Pugh said. "We were ranked fourth, them first, and I believe we played to the best of our ability tonight. We played our game and contended with them very well."
Marian had momentum for most of the first half but couldn't bang one through, ending the opening half 0-0.
Both teams finished the first half with one corner kick while Marian held a 4-2 edge in shots on goal.
With 37 minutes left in the first half, senior midfielder Annie Bruce knocked a shot off the crossbar from 25 yards for Marian, the best chance for either team in the opening half.
DeWitt generated some offense on the counterattack. With 27 minutes left in the first half, freshman midfielder Isabelle Gilmore sailed a shot high after freshman forward Teresa Ashbrook beat her mark one-on-one for DeWitt's best chance.
DeWitt beat Petoskey, 1-0, in its regional final while Marian dominated Trenton, 5-0, to make the semifinals.
Marian will play Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Saturday in Williamston. Northern beat Richland Gull Lake, 2-1, in overtime on Wednesday.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer
Girls soccer state finals
Novi 4, Troy 1
Grand Blanc 1, Midland 0
Final: 4, Friday
Lansing Christian 3, GP Woods Liggett 0
Kalamazoo Christian 2, N. Muskegon 1, SO
Final: 1, Friday
GR Forest Hills Northern 2, Richland Gull Lake 1, OT
Bloomfield Hills Marian 1, DeWitt 0
Final: 4, Saturday
Flint Powers 1, Warren Regina 0
Freeland 6, GR Catholic 1
Final: 1, Saturday