EAST LANSING – An opportunistic offense and a stout back line were more than enough for the East Lansing boys soccer team on Tuesday.
The Trojans took advantage of some DeWitt miscues on their way to a 3-0 victory to earn a chance to play for the CAAC Gold Cup championship.
"Goal scoring has been a little hard for us so we will take it any way we can get it," East Lansing coach Jeff Lyon said. "It was a lot of hustle work, putting pressure on the keeper and forcing them to make quick decisions. It worked out for us and got our confidence going early on."
The No. 2-seeded Trojans will face No. 1 seed Okemos – the team East Lansing and DeWitt shared a tri-championship with in the CAAC Blue regular season – in Thursday's Gold Cup championship game. The Wolves earned their spot in the final with a win over CAAC Red champ Williamston.
East Lansing struck first in the 12th minute Tuesday when pressuring forward Jack Hornbach was able to jump on a poor touch from DeWitt's goaltender and scored on an empty net.
Hornbach added a second goal in the 20th minute by forcing more pressure on the Panthers' back line. This time, Hornbach was able to jump in front of the goaltender's clearing attempt, then outrace a DeWitt defenseman to put away his second finish.
"That goal was really a good spark for early in the game and it really got our momentum rolling," Hornbach said. "Once we get going we can keep it up, and it means a lot to get this win because it shows we are developing as a team. It's good stuff."
East Lansing (10-4-2) added another goal off a miscue by Division 2 No. 9-ranked DeWitt in the 47th minute. Junior forward Sam Salvidar intercepted a pass back intended for the DeWitt keeper and tucked the ball in the back of the net to extend the Trojans' lead.
East Lansing's defense, led by senior centerback Ben Novello, made it extremely difficult on DeWitt's talented strikers to get any cleans looks on goal. In the rare instances DeWitt (11-3-2) got a scoring opportunity, Isaiah Smith was there for East Lansing in net to thwart any shots.
"We lost an all-state caliber player in the back from last year, and (Novello) stepped up at the end of last year and said this is what he was going to do," Lyon said. "He's been textbook and he's taken it on his shoulders to be our centerback and our leader on defense. We wouldn't be where we are at if it wasn't for (Novello) and (Smith), because they've made the most of their opportunities."
East Lansing and Okemos (12-0-4) will play for Gold Cup crown for the second straight year. The Wolves, who are ranked No. 4 in the state in Division 1, prevailed last year, 3-1.
"This tournament is fun because it really gets you prepared for districts," Lyon said. "Before when we were Divison 2 it was DeWitt; now since we moved up it'll be Okemos in our district. So getting familiarity with them, any chance we get to play them, whether in the Gold Cup or districts we get excited for that opportunity."
Contact Nathaniel Bott at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: East Lansing boys soccer tops DeWitt in CAAC Gold Cup semifinal