Grant Ellison's goal gives Rochester a 1-0 victory over Grand BlancSoccer  |
(PHOTO CREDIT - Ken Swart)
Rochester Hills – Grant Ellison’s eyes must have been as wide as the Mississippi River on Thursday.
The sophomore forward scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season with 32:05 left to lead Rochester to a 1-0 victory over Grand Blanc in a Division 1 regional final at Rochester Stoney Creek.
“When the ball popped out, I knew I had the game-winner,” Ellison said. “I knew I had to just shoot it low and it would go in. The goal was wide open.”
Senior Demitri Pliakos slotted a through ball to senior Ollie Najor, who had the ball deflect off his heel. Ellison pounced on the loose ball and ripped a shot from 18 yards out that sailed into a wide open net.
Rochester (15-3-5) won its first regional championship since 2002 and sends the Falcons into a semifinal on Wednesday at Troy High. The Falcons, who had been ranked earlier in the season, will face the winner of the Troy Athens-Macomb Dakota game regional final.
“We talked about how we wanted to execute, kind of counter because they push a lot of guys up,” said Rochester coach Chris Purgatori of the goal. “Demetri played a great ball in to Ollie. Ollie couldn’t put it away, but we always talk about crashing the goal, and Grant did that. He crashed the goal and put it in the back of the net.”
Grand Blanc held a 9-5 shots edge, including 6-3 with shots on frame, but could not get a shot past Rochester goal keeper Brad Carlson. Carlson notched a school record-tying 13th shutout on six saves.
“Defensively all year, we have been very, very solid. It was evident again today,” said Purgatori. “Grand Blanc is a fantastic team, and they are super, super dangerous. We managed to keep them off the scoreboard, and that’s a huge props to my backline and my keeper and the entire team really. It was just a fantastic game all around.”
Grand Blanc returned six players from last year and had 17 new varsity players. But the Bobcats went on a tear in the second half of the season, winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West Division title and KLAA tournament to climb into the top 20 just before the state tournament.
The Bobcats (14-6-5) had a flurry of chances in the first half, including a breakaway stopped by Carlson, and two shots that clanked off the top of the crossbar.
“Credit to Rochester because they are a very good defensive team. They didn’t give us much,” said veteran Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler. “We like to push it to the wings and then get the ball central. The things that we have been successful with this season we weren’t able to do. Rochester took that away from us. We had 3-4 nice chances and hit the crossbar twice.
Bennett Stokes had two saves for Grand Blanc, including punching a rocket by Pliakos over the crossbar in the 10th minute. Pliakos had another shot hit the goal post in the second half.
“Both teams had some chances, not a lot, but some nice chances. I figured it would be a tight game,” said Kehler. “Rochester finished their one opportunity and that was that was the difference.”