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No. 7-ranked Essexville Garber slips past Williamston in double OT, giving Bay County its first-ever regional champion

No. 7-ranked Essexville Garber slips past Williamston in double OT, giving Bay County its first-ever regional champion
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Jun 7, 11:45pm

WILLIAMSTON — History made.

For the first time, there will be a Bay County representative in the final four of girls soccer, after No. 7-ranked Essexville Garber claimed the region’s first regional title with a 3-2 win over Williamston in double-overtime Friday night.

“Two wins away from states, and it’s awesome. I can’t believe it,” said sophomore goalkeeper Logan Rau. “We dreamed of this moment since Day One, the whole year.”

Really, though, this dream is more than a decade and a half coming to fruition. 

When Troy Stewart started up the program 16 years ago, with his daughter Desiree as the captain, it was rough in the beginning. 

“We started out as a club, just driving our cars. … We lost every game,” said Desiree Stewart, who was on hand Friday to watch her dad’s program get one step closer to the ultimate dream, admitting that it wasn’t hard to keep playing when the results weren’t there early on. “No, because it’s always just been fun. It was always a good group of girls, and fun. We just wanted to win one, and then keep winning.”

Sixteen years ago, when father and daughter started the program, the first season was indeed winless. They started up the program in 2004, and won district titles in 2011 and 2013, before winning both districts and regionals this year.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it? Our program’s only 16 years old. Our first year, we were 0-19. This year, we’re 21-0-2, so that’s unbelievable,” said Troy Stewart, who will coach out the season, and the hand the reins over to someone else, so he can coach his daughter’s kids, Leah (10), Jude (7) and Clint (5). “I don’t know that we even have a regional championship in our county up until today. … For our school — our school is very small — it’s going to be amazing for this school to have a state champion, just to go to Michigan State would be amazing. But we’ve gotta worry about Warren Regina now, and they’re an amazing team, too. We have our work cut out for us.”

Garber will face No. 2-ranked Warren Regina in the Division 3 semifinals on Tuesday. The game is slated for 6 p.m. at Howell’s Parker Middle School.

The game plan for the Dukes will be similar to what got them the win on Friday, after trying to match the game preferred by Williamston (11-8-1). 

“We gotta play wide, play our game that we know how to play. We went middle with them for a while, but we’re better on our protections when we go wide. Our girls are very powerful, and we have two very aggressive strikers. If we go wide, and mix it back and forth, it’s back to our game, instead of playing their game. In the second half, it worked out for us,” Tony Stewart said. “They had a lot of direct kicks in the beginning. Their first goal was off a direct kick. That happens. We came back and played a hard game in the second half. We just wanted to possess and go as wide as we could on the field. That’s what we did, and it paid off.”

Williamston carried the play for the majority fo the first half, dominating possession for much of regulation. 

Maison Fenech converted one of those direct kicks, heading in the ball off the foot of Allie Alford for a 1-0 Williamston lead with 13:17 left first half. 

For a Garber team that had 16 shutouts this season, playing from behind wasn’t a familiar feeling.

“We were down in the first half once this year, only against a Class A school (Bay City Western). We came back and tied them 1-1, so we weren’t worried,” Tony Stewart said. 

His keeper was a bit worried, though.

“I was really scared, and at first, I felt bad,” Rau said, “but I could see in their eyes, now they’re going to work even harder, and that’s how we came out on top in this game.”

The Dukes tied it up on a quick strike counterattack, as Rachel Hahn took the long lead pass up the left side, then centered it for Isabel Baranski to head in for the equalizing goal just over nine minutes into the second half. 

The game would stay tied at 1-1 through the remainder of regulation and through the first 10-minute overtime period. Teagan Betzold scored the go-ahead goal for Garber with 8:37 left in the second overtime, but Fenech tied it up 2-2 on a header 50 seconds later.

Hahn scored the game-winner from a scrum in front of the Williamston net with 3:27 left, and the Dukes — thanks to a couple of key saves by Rau — managed to keep the Hornets from tying it up again.

“She’s light’s out, isn’t she? She’s a young sophomore. She had 31 shots all year, 17 last game, and I don’t know how many she had today, but between last game and this one, I’m sure she passed 31,” Stewart said of Rau. “That last save she had, pretty intense. Nerves of steel. She’s amazing.”

The game didn’t end without a bit of controversy. 

A Garber player was injured inside the final minute of play, and the Hornets kicked the ball out of bounds to get a stoppage of the clock. Williamston coach Steve Horn was incensed that his team didn’t get possession of the ball back after the stoppage, and had a heated exchange on the field.