NOVI – It was a life-changing experience for Muskegon Western Michigan Christian junior forward Matthew Bradford-Royle.
With 14 minutes, 50 seconds left in Saturday’s Division 4 championship game, he planted the rebound off a free kick from teammate Ashton Leffring into the Ann Arbor Greenhills net for the game’s lone goal as the Warriors (16-8-2) claimed their eighth MHSAA Finals title with a 1-0 victory at Novi High School.
“It was a great moment for him. It was a great moment for the team,’’ said WMC coach Ben Buursma. “It was just a hustle play. We practice that all the time. Ashton had a great shot. The goalie couldn’t handle it, and Matt was right there.
“I expected we would score a few more goals today, but the wind was a factor to deal with in the first half and they came out strong. They pressured us more offensively than we thought they would.’’
It was the only goal Greenhills (8-7-4) gave up during the playoffs.
“I knew (Leffring) was going bottom right corner,’’ said Bradford-Royle. “We practice it forever. He ripped it as hard as he could. I know we can’t catch it, so I ran and knocked it in. Easy as that.
“Oh my God, defense was great. Eli Malek, Jake Hwang did some nice work. Jared Olsen was great in goal. Our defense was just fantastic.’’
The Warriors, like Greenhills, entered the postseason unranked, but got hot at the end of the year to reach the Final.
Greenhills entered tournament play 3-6-4 before reeling off five straight victories to reach the championship match.
Western Michigan Christian started the season 2-5 and reached its 15th Final by allowing only four goals over six playoff games.
Bradford-Royle said the team changed its defense during the season and took off from that point.
“We usually try to start with a 3-5-2 formation to get a little more offensive power,’’ said Buursma. “The schedule we play doesn’t always work that way. We went back to a traditional 4-4-2. It worked out for us. We have the athletes we need to hold that line.’’
Buursma said he realized the Warriors could accomplish this goal, he joked, “with nine minutes to play.’’
The defensive first half ended scoreless, and the Gryphons concentrated on defending their goal.
With less than 20 minutes left to play, neither team had mounted a serious scoring chance with Greenhills providing most of the offensive attack.
“If you look at the stats, we put some good shots on goal and a number of corner kicks,’’ said Greenhills coach Lucian Popescu. “We played a strong game. We played our way; a little bit disruptive.
“The difference was a very small margin. They were strong, they defended well in the last minute. The goalkeeper made two or three important saves. We faced a team today that was solid offensively, defensively and in goal.’’
PHOTOS (Top) WMC’s Jake Hwang (3) works to keep possession with Greenhills’ Michael Zheng defending. (Middle) Warriors keeper Jared Olsen (00) gathers up the ball.
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.