East Grand Rapids defeats Forest Hills Central in the second overtime, 11-10, win capture second consecutive D2 title
Click above to watch the highlights of the East Grand Rapids vs. Forest Hills Central - Division 2 Final
Howell — Chris Owens spent some time on the sidelines after a couple of early miscues, but still had plenty of time to play hero for East Grand Rapids in Saturday’s Division 2 boys lacrosse championship at Parker Middle School in Howell.
The senior was back in the game in crunch time and made it count. His goal with 2:04 left in the second overtime gave East Grand Rapids an 11-10 win over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and a second straight state title.
“We were going to slow it down, run an offense. I saw an opening, and that was that,” said Owens, who surprised even his teammates when he cut to the goal and didn’t see it hit the back of the net. “I did not, no. I saw last second everyone running to me.”
Owens was snowed under in the dog pile as the Pioneers (19-5) celebrated their fifth championship in program history, and a second straight title over the Rangers (18-2), a team that came into Saturday’s game as the favorite.
“That (the dog pile) hurt. A lot. But it was awesome,” Owens said. “It’s crazy. All these people watching, I don’t know. Feels good to finish it off.”
Thanks to a finals record-tying six goals by Eric Solberg, the Pioneers nearly closed it out in regulation, but Forest Hills Central’s Luke Majick tied the game at 10-10 with 33 seconds remaining to send it to overtime, and the Rangers carried that momentum into the extra frames.
“Once we tied it up late, definitely felt we had the momentum going into overtime, and again going into the second overtime there, after we got a couple good stops on defense,” said Forest Hills Central coach Andy Shira, whose team battled from behind all afternoon. “Obviously to get back to this game, after what happened last year was really a driving force, a motivator for us this year. Obviously, our guys didn’t want to lose this one, especially against East Grand Rapids, and we’re not going to down without a fight. It’s a true testament to the heart our guys have, and I’m very proud of them for the season they had, and the way they competed today.”
The Rangers had the early chances in the overtime period, too, threatening to unseat the Pioneers — a team they’d beaten 14-7 in the regular season, after falling 11-9 in last year’s title game.
“When we were a man down in overtime — oh, my God. And I had a serious heart attack in 2014, so I was like ‘Where’s my nitroglycerin? This is not going to be fun,’” East Grand Rapids coach Rick DeBlasio said. “Forest Hills is a great program. We like banging with them three years in a row. We might want to see another team here (in the finals) next year if we get back, but they’re a great team, and they’ll be back.”
East Grand Rapids scored the final three goals of the second quarter, two of them eight seconds apart, to lead 6-4 at the half. Solberg had two of his five first-half goals in the streak, tying it up at 4-4, then giving the Pioneers a 5-4 lead. He would score again early in the third period to give him six goals on the game, matching the finals record held by three Birmingham Brother Rice players, Morgan Macko (2014), Jason Alessi (2013) and Devin Peurach (2008).
“Shots were starting to drop, and everything was working well,” Solberg said. “I haven’t scored this much against a good team like this. Their defense is pretty solid, so it was a big game.”
DeBlasio didn’t originally have Solberg playing an attack position, like his older brother, All-American Matt Solberg had, but moved him there to boost the Pioneers’ flagging offense.
“We actually started Eric playing at midfield here, thinking his dodging would free him up. Well, we went through a period, offensively, where we just weren’t getting the kind of production we wanted, and I moved him to attack. And, since I moved him to attack, he’s average four to six goals per game,” DeBlasio said. “He’s a pretty special kid, too.”
The Rangers led for a total of 3:39 in the game, most of that after Majick scored his first goal of the game, nearly five minutes in.
The big change from the first meeting between the two teams was that DeBlasio had tweaked the Pioneers’ transition game, and it paid off.
“These guys have so much talent. (Sunday) they’re going to announce the end-of-season awards, and All-Americans, all-state, and they’re going to dominate all of that, and well-deserved, for sure. We took the film apart, and observations from when we played them in the middle of April and basically dissected what we didn’t do well. We actually played pretty decent, settled defense, but our transition game was terrible,” said DeBlasio, who also had his team limiting the Rangers’ shots as much as possible.
“This could be maybe the lowest productivity they’ve had this season in shots, which is what we had to do. Because if you give them 30 shots, there’s a pretty good chance they have 15 goals. And if they have 15 goals, there’s a pretty good chance you’re talking to Andy, and not talking to me.”
But DeBlasio was the center of postgame attention, in part because Owens made up for his early miscues.
“He had a few troubles with some possessions early in the game that resulted in turnovers. During one of our man-ups he took an outside shot that we normally wouldn’t prefer, so I had him on the sidelines for a minute or two to have a little conversation. But we knew he needed to go back (in),” DeBlasio said. “When he gets his hands free and sweeps, if you give him half a step, it’s over. For him to get the (game-winning) goal was really special, and something the whole team celebrates.”
Along with a fifth state title.