Troy — It’s simple — win and you’re in the championship. Easier said than done, right?
Defending Division 1 champion Detroit Catholic Central had its back against the wall in Wednesday's semifinal against a hot Lake Orion team and Catholic Central is headed back to the state championship game.
Catholic Central (20-3) won a thriller in overtime as senior midfielder Ryan Birney was the hero for Catholic Central.
“I saw an opening in the defense and attacked,” Birney said of his winning goal.
It will be a rematch of last year’s state championship game as Catholic Central will take on Catholic League rival Birmingham Brother Rice at 2 p.m. Saturday at Parker Middle School in Howell.
Birney knows that Brother Rice will bring it’s A-game.
“We know that they (Brother Rice) are going to come out and try to set the tone, so we just have to be ready to play our game,” Birney said.
Catholic Central coach Dave Wilson credited Lake Orion on a great game.
“They (Lake Orion) battled the entire game and put a lot of pressure on us,” Wilson said. “We were able to step up in crucial situations and pull out the win.”
It was a battle from start to finish. The momentum shifted back and forth in the second half.
The fourth quarter was where the excitement was. Lake Orion had a 12-11 lead with 3:49 to play when Catholic Central senior Connor Beals scored a goal that would have tied the score, but the officials waved off the goal due to a penalty for a bad stick.
Lake Orion still led, 12-11. It wasn’t long before Catholic Central tied the score with 3:17 left.
Lake Orion quickly answered with a goal from senior attacker Sam Parillo, his third of the night.
But once again, it was Birney who came up big as he tied the score at 13.
“I was feeling pretty good on the goal that I tied the game on and I knew we would have a chance to win,” Birney said.
Catholic Central trailed early in the game but it wouldn’t trail for long. The defending champ took its first lead in the third quarter on a goal by senior attacker Patrick Lee.
This was a rejuvenated team and the energy was contagious throughout.
Leading the charge for Catholic Central was junior attacker Ryan Sullivan, who had three goals in the third. Catholic Central scored seven times in the third.
Sullivan loved the way his team battled back and closed the game out.
“We were a bit frustrated in the first and we started to lose our heads a bit, but in the second half we were more focused and that caused us to play a lot better,” Sullivan said.
Catholic Central would score three straight early in the third to cut the deficit to one at 7-6 with 7:38 left in the period.
Coach Wilson had one message for his team coming into the third.
“I told them we can’t lose focus,” Wilson said. “We know what it takes to battle through adversity and that’s what they did.”
Lake Orion set the tone in the first half, even after a weather delay.
Senior attacker Sam Parillo and junior midfielder Joe Cady led the scoring for Lake Orion with two goals each.
Lake Orion (19-3) took control of the game in the first quarter. Lake Orion was patient on offense looking for the perfect opportunity to attack and score.
Maintaining the possession for almost six minutes, Lake Orion finally struck first. Junior midfielder Dario Ruffini got the party started for Lake Orion with a rifle shot past the Catholic Central goalie.
Lake Orion took a 1-0 lead with 6:51 in the first and then would tack on three more to take a 4-1 lead after one.
Birmingham Brother Rice 18, Rockford 4
Detroit Catholic Central 14, Lake Orion 13 (OT)
Final: Saturday, 2 p.m., at Howell Parker Middle School
Forest Hills Central 20, Orchard Lake St. Mary's 5
Forest Hills Eastern 9, East Grand Rapids 6
Final: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Howell Parker Middle School
Kevin Moore is a freelance writer.