EAST LANSING, MI — Holding a 2-1 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the second half of their Division 3 Women’s Soccer State Championship game, Hudsonville Unity Christian was poised to win the title trophy No. 11.
Then Williamston senior Liz Bellinger put her mighty right leg in a free-kick from 45 yards out and drilled the ball into the top corner to bring her Hornets team back to life.
Nine minutes later, Williamston sent their strong fan base into another frenzy, when elder Kaley Douglass outplayed a Christian Unit defender to pick up the ball on the corner of the box and pass Breyer Fenech, who buried a shot from 12 meters to the ceiling. an unlikely 3-2 comeback win on Saturday at DeMartin Stadium.
“Honestly, I practice these shots all the time,” Bellinger said of his equalizer. “Whether it’s in the corners or anywhere the frame is what I’m aiming for, and whether we get the second ball or it just goes into the net the first time – I didn’t expect that it goes in, but being able to hit that was all I cared about on the frame… Absolutely amazing.
PICTURES: View our gallery of the Division 3 Women’s Soccer State Championship Game
The late fireworks were a fitting end to a state title game featuring the top two teams in Division 3, and the championship game also opened with a bang, as the No. 2 Unity Christian scored within five minutes, when Olivia Bosworth collected a rebound in front of the net and buried a ball past Williamston keeper Abby Pieper.
The Hornets responded less than two minutes later with a Douglass penalty, after Unity goalkeeper Christian Morgan Scholten was whistled for bringing down a Williamston player in a run for a stray ball into the box.
After an equal first 20 minutes of the second half, Unity Christian broke the tie with a goal from rookie Ava Lutke, who netted a perfect cross pass from Jessie Postma.
Williamston’s bench received a yellow card in the aftermath, but the Hornets didn’t retreat and eventually earned a break when Bellinger lined up his long-range strike.
“I think that was definitely a turning point,” Bellinger said. “With the energy crashing at the start of the second half, it was really necessary. It was definitely a team effort, though, to get everyone up and doing their job to get there. That much.
Williamston kept their foot on the gas after leveling the game, forcing Scholten to make a leaping save on a ball headed into the top corner with five minutes remaining, before the formidable combination of Douglass and Fenech gave the lead to the Hornets with 1:21 to play.
” It was hard. The last goal they had was just a thing of beauty,” Unity Christian coach Randy Heethuis said. “I have to take my hat off to Williamston because they fought hard. When we went up 2-1, they did what they do. They weren’t shaken; they were composed and worked around the ball.
Although Unity Christian (21-2-1) failed to add to its collection of Division 3 state-record championships, the Crusaders returned to the Finals for the first time since 2016, and they’re coming back a lot of talent for what should be a promising 2023 season.
“We have a lot of good kids coming back, so it stings, but we hope to be back,” Heethuis said. “Yeah, we are disappointed with how this game ended but man, with this atmosphere like this today and on a great day like this, it’s hard to be too depressed. I’m just happy with the girls. They fought and it was a fantastic season.
Playing in their third league game, Williamston avenged their previous finals losses to Unity Christian in 2008 and 2010 to make program history.
“It’s absolutely amazing, for sure,” Bellinger said. “…I think we’ve been successful here as a team, and I want to thank all of my team-mates. I think we all appreciate the support, the staff, and as I said before, I think we did it for the team in 2008 that made it here, the teams that never made it, the teams in 2010 and 2015, I think we got the job done for them this year, and I think it was well deserved by all of us.
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