Nights like Tuesday are exactly why North Muskegon boys soccer coach Jeremy Tjapkes and the Norsemen loaded up their regular-season schedule with all the top competition they could find.
It’s why Tjapkes was not overly concerned about his team’s 8-11-2 regular-season record.
Unranked North Muskegon took down No. 8 McBain Northern Michigan Christian, 1-0, in a Division 4 regional semifinal at Rotary Club Field in Cadillac.
The Norsemen, who are finally back to .500 at 11-11-2, advance to the regional final for the first time since they dropped a 1-0 overtime heartbreaker to Allen Park Inter-City Baptist in 2005. At 6 p.m. Thursday, they’ll get a chance to avenge a 2-1 season-opening loss to No. 6 Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (21-3-1), which blitzed Buckley, 7-1, in the other regional semifinal.
Northern Michigan Christian finishes with an 18-2-1 record.
“I’m very proud of our guys. You know, the game tonight wasn’t the prettiest of games, but it was a gritty game and our guys gave tons of effort and great attitude,” said North Muskegon coach Jeremy Tjapkes, who is in 22nd season at the helm.
“At this point in the game, it’s not always about being the prettiest soccer; it’s about being effective and our boys were very effective tonight and they feel really good – we all feel real good about that win. We’re glad that we’re moving on for the championship on Thursday.”
Junior midfielder Ben Hoffer’s goal with 17 minutes remaining in the first half was all North Muskegon needed to punch its ticket to the regional finals.
Senior defender Hunter Koekkoek assisted on the goal, ending up with the ball in the box. The Northern Michigan Christian keeper attempted to intercept the ball, but Hoffer ended up with it. Tjapkes said that Hoffer worked hard to put himself in position to knock it in.
The Norse defense, anchored by seniors Ryan Peoples and Nolan Mallory, junior Jack Erne and sophomore Zach Mallon, combined with the play in goal of sophomore Leighton Hunt helped seal the victory. Hunt made nine saves, while his team was able to fire 13 shots on goal against Northern Michigan Christian.
“Our defense really played well tonight,” Tjapkes said.
“Leighton just made some nice saves. I mean, it was nothing like right close, point blank, that he had to make a nice save on. It was just, they were throwing a lot of balls at the goal. He had to be big to clean up rebounds or they were right there.”
North Muskegon has come a long way this season, having faced 10 or 11 ranked opponents.
On Tuesday, the Norsemen literally went a long way. It’s about a 2 ½-hour drive to Cadillac for them, while Northern Michigan Christian’s trip was about 15 minutes.
Tjapkes expects the Norse will have their hands full against Potter’s House, which is led by Michigan State commit Jonathan Stout. Tjapkes added that the Pumas have a “very good team all the way around.”
“You know, some of these games, you’ve just got to dig deep and put your work boots and go to work, and that was the perfect example of what we did here tonight. This team was 18-1-1,” Tjapkes said about Tuesday’s victory.
“We just keep telling the boys, we’ve played such a tough schedule to prepare us for the tournament and, you know, it’s paying off.”
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