By Ben Murphy
A gutsy defensive effort for the Clare soccer team couldn’t overcome its offensive shortcomings Wednesday night, as the Pioneers fell 3-0 to visiting Houghton Lake in a division three district semi-final contest.
“It was a good game,” Clare head coach Doug Helmling said of the season ending loss. “Every time we would get the ball and try to create something they would just boot the ball up-field. They had good midfielders that controlled the ball pretty well and did a good job setting up shots and running off the ball. I think their speed in the midfield kind of gave them the edge.”
The Bobcats controlled play for the first 10 minutes but could not get a clean shot on goal. That changed in the 11th minute, when Jared Roll broke away from a pair of Clare defenders and fired a bullet of a shot towards the Clare goal. Pioneer goalkeeper Eric Litke made a diving attempt at a save but the ball bounced and squirted underneath his outstretched arms.
H-L had another great opportunity about a minute later but this time Litke was up to the challenge, making a diving save.
Then, with 20:40 left to play in the first half the Bobcats had what appeared to be a goal but Aaron Stutzman booted the ball away for a non-keeper save.
The Pioneers had their first real scoring opportunity stymied at the 18:16 mark, but a pass to an open Mike Glowniak was just off the mark.
Clare had a couple more offensive surges late in the half, and had its best chance of the night when Camden Dice led a centering pass for Eric Wezensky, but the H-L goalkeeper beat Wezensky to the ball by a step.
From there, the Bobcats regained control of the match, though could not put in another goal before the break as Litke made a pair of strong saves to keep the score at 1-0 at the half.
H-L scored just over three minutes into the second half on a goal by Brenden Hans and put the game away on a goal by Jimmy Garrett.
“Litke made some real good saves,” Helmling said of his goalie’s effort. “He’s always been a pretty solid keeper. He’s going to be back again next year with another year of experience behind him. Our midfielders did well but they’re still getting their stride. They’re still sophomores and they need to understand that their best seasons are still ahead. As well as they played today they’re only going to get better.”
On Monday Clare opened district play with a 1-0 win over host Pinconning. Clare scored the only goal of the contest in the 13th minute.
That was when Camden Dice was taken down inside the penalty box, and Angel Heras calmly booted in the ensuing penalty shot.
“Three steps and one quick strike later and the eventual game winner beat the Spartan goalkeeper into the corner,” Helmling said of the shot. “Pinconning played well… limiting us to six shots on goal.”
Helmling also had high praise for his goalkeeper, Eric Litke.
“He was strong in goal, saving all eight shots against him and earning his second clean sheet (shutout) of the year,” Helmling said. “(At one point) a speedy Spartan found his way behind (our defense) but Litke came off his line and swallowed the ball off the attacker’s feet.”
Clare finishes the season (6-13-1)
“We will come back faster and stronger next year,” Helmling said. “Most of our team is young so we are not disappointed in the way the season went. I think we had a great season. We made a lot of improvement from last year and got better as the season went on. I am real proud of the guys for how hard they worked for themselves and for the team.”