By Doug Chapin
POLAND — Ryan Storkel’s second goal of the game with 6:56 remaining in the second overtime period lifted Poland to a 2-1 victory over West Branch on Tuesday night in a Division II boys soccer district semifinal.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (16-0-2) advanced to the district championship game Saturday night at home against Cardinal Mooney, the second seed.
“We outscored our opponents 80-8 so we’ve been in control of the majority of the games over the course of the season,” Poland coach Brad Sackella said. “The only thing we had to rely on was practice. We put ourselves in a lot of situations in practice, kind of improvising being in a down position. Then we went through some of the personnel moves we would make. Some of the movements on the field that we had practiced in recent weeks really helped us out tonight.”
A throw-in into the West Branch penalty area took a high bounce. Storkel headed the ball down, then was able to beat goal keeper Matt Latham to the ball right in front of the goal from where he knocked it in.
Latham was credited with eight saves and Poland keeper Cooper Kostelic had six. Both came up big on several occasions, spoiling excellent scoring opportunities, especially in the two overtime periods.
“I think we just ran out of gas at the end,” West Branch coach Matt Thomas said. “We ran about three or four substitutes through, but right at the end you could see Poland had some momentum there and they just kept it up.”
Sackella said conditioning was a big part of Poland’s preparation.
“At one of our first practices this season it was laid out that we would not lose because we were out of shape,” Sackella said. “The comment was made on the sidelines tonight that all that effort and all that time during practice paid off. This year we continued to reinforce the importance of conditioning all during the season.
“The guys weren’t too excited about it but we always talk about it like it’s putting money in the bank. When you need to go get some, it’s there.”
Storkel’s first goal came with 17:49 remaining in the first half on an assist by Kevin Krumpak who set up Storkel with a crossing pass.
Poland had a 9-4 edge in shots in the first half including 5-0 in shots on goal.
West Branch (11-6-2) started to get the better of the play in the second half and tied the game with 6:09 left in regulation on a goal by Brian Snoddy. A Warrior crossing pass was headed out by the Poland defense but the ball went right to Snoddy at the top of the penalty area and he put the ball over Kostelic’s head into the left corner of the net.
“We were sitting back a little bit because we didn’t want to get beat early,” Thomas said about the Warriors‘ approach to the contest. “We know that a lot of times what Poland does is get up on you early and then they put you away. We were trying to hang around and talked about getting through the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we did a pretty good job giving up just one goal in the first half. Then we started to build some confidence, we adjusted to the speed of the turf and we were able to play with them and get a goal ourselves.”
“I think the kids responded well,” Sackella said about how the Bulldogs reacted to being deadlocked on the scoreboard. “We’ve been practicing that all through the season. We’ve gone out in the district semifinals in overtime before, so we’ve been kind of preparing for this for the last couple of weeks.”
Poland will make its first appearance in a district final since winning the district title in 2005.