Tri County soccer beats Cardinals to open postseason

Big Rapids falls short against Tri County, 4-2, in district opener

BIG RAPIDS — The Big Rapids and Tri County boys soccer teams split both of their regular season games and the Central State Activities Association (CSAA) title, so it was almost fitting that the two teams would square off in the first round of Division 3 district play on Tuesday.

RACE TO THE BALL: Big Rapids’ Nick Worden (left) and Tri County’s Eric Hayden (right) both chase after a loose ball during a Division 3 first-round district matchup at Big Rapids High School on Tuesday. The Vikings claimed a 4-2 victory to set up a district semifinal contest against Reed City on Thursday. (Pioneer photo/Greg Buckner)

RACE TO THE BALL: Big Rapids’ Nick Worden (left) and Tri County’s Eric Hayden (right) both chase after a loose ball during a Division 3 first-round district matchup at Big Rapids High School on Tuesday. The Vikings claimed a 4-2 victory to set up a district semifinal contest against Reed City on Thursday. (Pioneer photo/Greg Buckner)

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, there was no splitting with the Vikings on this day as Tri County came away with a 4-2 victory to move on to a district semifinal match with Reed City on Thursday, tentatively scheduled to take place at Big Rapids High School.

“The way it’s set up for soccer, everyone makes the playoffs and unlike football, you don’t have the playoff points and you just throw the names in a hat and that’s the way it goes,” Big Rapids coach Justin Fox said. “Whether we square off first or last, we’ve got to play against (Tri County) at some point and they just had a little more for us (Tuesday).”

Big Rapids netted the first goal of the night halfway through the first period when Scott Vander Sloot sent a pass in front of the net and Mason Gifford knocked it past Tri County keeper Brenden Armstrong to give the Cardinals the 1-0 edge.

The goal came close to 10 minutes after Vander Sloot sent a shot on the goal that just danced across the net, but never broke the plane of the goal line.

A shot by Gifford did the exact same thing with 10:55 to go in the opening half, with the muddy field conditions keeping his shot from breaking the goal line as it skidded in front of the net.

“It just goes down to if we have that second guy running down there instead of watching or if we’re a little more unselfish in front of the goal to make the pass,” Fox said. “The goalie is a good goalie, but let’s not play it right at him. It’s just the way it works with composure in front of the goal. (Tri County) didn’t really have a lot of chances right in front of the goal, but they were composed.”

The Cardinals looked to be heading into halftime with the lead, but Tri County evened the score at 1-1 on a penalty kick by Dylan Matulis that came after a pushing call on the Cardinals to send the teams into the break all knotted up.

The score didn’t stay tied for long as Matulis scored his second goal of the night, on an assist from Jesse Haywood, just 54 seconds into the second half to put Tri County on top by one.

Big Rapids fired right back, though, as Vander Sloot hustled down the field to beat Armstrong to a loose ball, eventually prying the ball away from Armstrong and knocking it through the goal posts to force a 2-2 tie with 27:26 left to play.

“That’s how he plays and he’s 100 percent every time,” Fox said of Vander Sloot. “Every chance that he has for the ball, he’s going to go for it. That one in a nutshell showed what he’s capable of doing and how he won’t give up on a play.”

With momentum shifting to the Cardinals, the Vikings retaliated with another goal from Matulis on a header to give him the hat-trick and give Tri County a 3-2 lead with 18:15 to go in regulation.

The Vikings pushed that lead to two with a goal from Haywood, assisted by  Brandon Olson, with 10:27 to play.

That lead stood the rest of the way as the Cardinals continued to pepper the Vikings with shots, but could not find the back of the net.

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