Sep. 16—HOLLAND — Facing their toughest test of the season to date, Fruitport's undefeated soccer team had taken its first big punch on Wednesday night.
Up against Holland Christian, its major OK Blue rival and the No. 2 team in Division 3, the Trojan defense had held on for 60 minutes. Normally a team that had played with a lead through six games, after conceding midway through the second half, Fruitport found themselves needing a goal.
Junior Bode Anspach was the one to deliver, heading in a corner kick with 13:30 to play to earn a hard-working 1-1 tie on the road and keeping a regular-season title in play.
"We knew we were going to have to be tough," Anspach said. "We got scored on and responded exactly how we needed to."
The Trojans will have goalkeeper Justin Laus to thank for the result — he saved a penalty kick from all-state midfielder Kirby Eggers in the first half and was comfortable saving long-range shots. That came in handy against a Maroons attack that had scored three or more goals in each of their conference matches so far, including a 4-3 win at Spring Lake late last month.
"Our defense did a good job of keeping them from getting in close," Laus said. "From long range, they're going to have to do something special, and we handled what they could throw at us."
It may not have been the Maroons' sharpest performance, but Fruitport definitely won't care about that — instead, strong defending from the midfield and backline helped earn a valuable result on the road.
"They're a good team and it was a lot faster playing on turf," Zach Schafer said. "They moved the ball really well and we were just able to adapt to it and hold them off."
Laus' penalty-kick save was the first real bit of action in the game — Brady Brown's tug on a Holland Christian attacker came just inside the penalty box eight minutes into the game. Eggers sent his penalty kick to the right side of the net, but Laus dove early and was able to push the ball away to keep things scoreless.
"I saw his eyes go one way," Laus said. "I figured a player as good as he is wasn't going to telegraph it like that, so I went the other way and got a little lucky."
The rest of the first half fell into a pattern — Holland Christian with possession, the Trojans backing off and waiting for mistakes. Schafer and Jayce Thornton did plenty of work in defensive midfield, and Fruitport looked to the speed of Sean Gieske up top to try and create quick offense.
That nearly worked midway through the half, as Gieske was able to collect a pass from Ryan Laus and had a chance one-on-one — his low shot was saved after pressure from chasing defenders.
Justin Laus had one more save to make in the final minutes of the half, jumping at full stretch to tip a shot over the crossbar from the Maroons' Adam Kroeze — a save that had Holland Christian junior varsity players impressed at halftime.
Fruitport defenders kept working after halftime. A quiet 20 minutes featured just two routine saves from Laus on long rolling shots, and the Maroons were unsuccessful on set piece plays, where they tried to use their height to disrupt Laus and the Trojan defenders.
It was a long throw that provided the breakthrough, as Kroeze's long throw was knocked down right in front of goal. Holland Christian's Luke Danhoff was the first to react, blasting a shot through traffic to open the scoring with 18:41 to play.
The Trojans had more of the ball in the second half, and Gieske forced a corner kick minutes later. Anspach was on hand at the back post to head in after a corner kick fell his way.
"It was really high and just missed everybody," Anspach said. "I saw it come and I knew I had to give it a chance."
There were chances for Holland Christian afterwards, but the Trojans held out. A free kick in a good position was curled over the crossbar by Eggers, and a Maroon corner kick flashed just in front of the goal line without a touch to send it towards goal.
"We knew their speed and size was going to be an issue," coach Dan Hazekamp said. "There's something special about our backline, all season they've been able to fight, block shots, do whatever it takes. I'm super proud of them."
The Trojans move to 6-0-1 on the season, and entered Thursday with the second best "Power Rating" in the state thanks to their undefeated record and strength of schedule. Wednesday was just their third conference game of the season, so they'll be busy in the coming weeks — after a Saturday trip to North Muskegon, they'll travel to Allendale on Monday before a home game against Hudsonville Unity Christian on Sept. 22.
You can email Kyle at kturk@grand
haventribune.com or find him on Twitter @KyleTurkGHT.