COMSTOCK PARK — For every pass there was a takeaway. For every shot there was a save.
That was the story of the Division 3 district soccer game between the Belding Redskins and Comstock Park Panthers on Monday night. For more than 44 minutes, the score was knotted at zero and the Redskins had upset on their minds.
Then with 5:48 remaining in the first 10 minute overtime period, the Panthers Jimmy Whalen found the back of the net off a nice shot right of the goal for a 1-0 lead. That would be the lone goal of the game and propelled the Panthers to the district semifinals.
“It was a tremendous effort from everyone all night long,” Belding coach Blaine Kemme said. “To stay with them the way we did and take it to overtime was great. I told our guys this was the type of game where one play was going to be the difference.”
Comstock Park defeated the Redskins twice during the O-K Blue regular season, including a mercy in the first meeting. Since that meeting, the Redskins have improved drastically.
“We have improved so much from the start of the season to now,” Kemme said. “It’s unbelievable. I told them there is no shame in what happened out here tonight. They played a fantastic match.”
Panthers coach Javier Nava agreed with the vast improvement of the Redskins.
“It was tough. We probably made it tougher than it should have been,” Panthers coach Javier Nava said. “They showed a lot of improvement and were a much better team than before.
“Fortunately, we stepped it up in the second half and mainly the overtime and got the win,” he added.
Both teams had plenty of chances in both halves, but failed to score past a couple of senior goalkeepers in Belding’s Sergio Bautista-Santos and Comstock Park’s Miguel Nava.
“All the way through the match we had some opportunities up front, but just couldn’t get the lucky touch,” Kemme said.
Comstock Park hit the crossbar with 11:33 remaining in the first half, while Nava made a diving save on Belding’s Cesar Corona-Camacho with less than three minutes remaining in the same half.
“We were not combining right in the first half. The whole first half we should have done better with combinations,” Nava said. “We were not connecting passes and for some reason we could not dominate the middle until the second.”
Belding had a great opportunity to score early in the second half. Off an indirect kick, Christopher Ornelas drilled a shot over a wall of Panthers players, but Nava reached high in the air to snag the shot just below the crossbar.
The Panthers picked up their pressure with some great scoring chances late in the second half. That continued into overtime, where Whalen connected on the game winning shot.
“Maybe the boys were a little bit overconfident,” Nava said. “We had some boys injured and maybe that made us take a while before we got it together.”
Belding finished the season with a 4-13 record. The record doesn’t indicate the type of improvement this team has seen.
“Our intensity, speed of play and aggressiveness has improved,” Kemme said. “We are passing better, looking for the open man to pass the ball too and just playing together as a team better.”
Comstock Park improved to 8-5-3 overall.
They will face Reed City on Wednesday in the district semifinal at Leroy Pine River.