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BOYS SOCCER Brighton, Catholic Central advance, to meet for regional title



Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork

GRAND BLANC – It’s been a few years since Brighton has made a deep run into the postseason. The Bulldogs have intentions on staying a while.

Brighton, which finished second in a very deep KLAA West Division and finally cracked the top 15 state rankings late in the regular season, scored a goal in each half and limited Bloomfield Hills’ scoring chances as the game wore onward – and the Bulldogs blanked the Blackhawks 2-0 in a regional semifinal Tuesday at Grand Blanc High School’s new 50-million dollar athletic complex.

Brighton (17-3-2) will face Catholic Central at 7 p.m. Thursday at Grand Blanc for the regional championship. The Bulldogs were Division 1 state runner-up to Novi 25 years ago – and now are three wins from their ultimate goal.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve advanced this far,” offered Brighton coach Mark Howell of his team now reaching the Elite Eight of the postseason for the first time since 2012. “We’ve had some good teams but we’re unable to get here for a long time.”


Patience is a virtue for these Bulldogs, who were 14th in the state entering the state tournament behind a bevy of quality wins, including two victories over KLAA West Division champion and second-ranked Northville. Understanding that each game is a marathon and not a one-minute sprint has paid off the Brighton.

“We looked to counter. We’re more of a counter-attacking team so we do abide our time,” offered Brighton coach Mark Howell. “We abide our time and we are patient with it. We typically are able to mount a good attack later in a game and we were able to find that again today.”

Brighton, which is on an impressive 11-0-1 stretch during the second half of the season, sat back comfortably and allowed a young Bloomfield Hills side to press and attack before turning on its own engine. The patient Bulldogs began to mount some pressure and controlled a lot of the play over the final 60 minutes.

Brighton, owners of a 52-12 scoring edge this season, finally cashed in its first paycheck with 5:40 to play in the first half. Junior Devlin McGinnis fired a shot at the Bloomfield Hills goal that was initially by sophomore goalkeeper Toby Bennett, but senior forward Colin Robertson was there to scoop up the loose change and blast the shot into the open net.

The Bulldogs added an insurance tally early in the second half. Robertson, an NCAA Division I recruit who spent the last three years competing in the MLS Next Academy system, was able to redirect a McGinnis cornerkick into the goal from close-range with 33:09 remaining in the contest.

Brighton controlled play for long stretches of the second half and its stout defense held true to form, as senior goalkeeper Charlie Burchfield recorded six saves and earned the team’s 12th shutout of the campaign. The Bulldogs only conceded four shots in the second half and only two on frame.

Only one team this season has scored more than one goal in a game on the Bulldogs – a 3-2 loss to Plymouth Canton back on Sept. 16 – but Brighton is a different team since then with a 28-5 scoring differential during the 12-game unbeaten streak. The Bulldogs have now won five straight overall.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” added Howell. “Hopefully we have a lot more soccer ahead of us.”

Bloomfield Hills coach Dougie MacAulay wasn’t disappointed in his team’s season ending in the regionals this season. The Blackhawks finished second in the OPAA White Division, earned its first district title since 2015 this season and finished the campaign with a respectable 12-5-3 overall record.

“We’re a young team and Brighton is a very experienced team and we have (10) sophomores on our roster,” said MacAuley. “We won three straight district in (2013, 2014 and 2015) but we haven’t won one since until this year. When you have that many sophomores and win a district – I can’t complain. We came a long ways this season. We’ll be back next year and hopefully we can take it a step further.”

NOVI DETROIT CATHLIC CENTRAL 2, OXFORD 0: Unranked and unheralded.

One year after reaching the Final Four with 19 seniors, Detroit Catholic Central withstood constant pressure and scored two counterattack goals in downing seventh-ranked and OAA Red Division champion Oxford, 2-0, Tuesday at Grand Blanc in the Division 1 regional semifinals.

It marks the sixth time in a decade that the Shamrocks have reached at least the regional finals. Not bad for a team labeled as a heavy rebuilding job at the beginning of the season after losing most of its roster, five All-State players, a Mr. Soccer award winner and a bevy of future college players to graduation back in the early summer.

This year’s Shamrocks have played with a higher level of energy as of late considering CC started the year 2-5-0 and were outscored 16-8 in that span. Since then Catholic Central is 10-2-0 with a 34-7 scoring edge.

“I thought we brought a different energy in the second half and it definitely paid dividends,” noted Catholic Central coach Gene Pulice, who led the program to state titles in 2017 and 2020 and several other long postseason runs. “You know Oxford is organized as well as any team (we’ve played) is organized. They had a game plan, they stuck to the game plan and I can’t say enough good things about Oxford and Adam Bican. I respect him and I respect their program. It was a battle – it was definitely a battle. I think our back line was fantastic. We defended as much as anything this evening. Simon Sawyer, Garen Vartanian, Zach Gawne. We have Nolan Karfonta -- Gawne got into yellow card trouble and I had to get him out of there, so I put Karfonta in there for him. We didn’t skip a beat. We had to get organized, so hats off to the guys couldn’t be more proud of them.

“We had about 15 minutes there in the first half that we had to put our collective thoughts and pull ourselves together a little bit.,” added Pulice. “We just excelled from that moment on after we got organized. It worked out and everybody I put it (played fine) and we just didn’t skip a beat.”

Oxford (16-5-3) outshot Catholic Central 10-5 over the first 40 minutes, but the Shamrocks were able to convert on a Wildcats miscue late in the first half. An Oxford defender failed to clear a deep ball from danger and senior midfielder Brady Schmidt corralled a loose ball and laced a low shot from 22 yards out into the left corner with 1:28 to go in the first half.

The Shamrocks again took advantage of another Oxford backfield mistake just four minutes into the second half. A miscommunication between two Wildcats allowed senior forward Hudson Todd to run in and intercept the ball before tucking in a 25-yarder into an open net with 36:03 still to play in regulation.

Sawyer, Catholic Central’s 6-foot-3 senior center back and fourth-year varsity veteran, anchored the Shamrocks’ pesky backline that frustrated the Wildcats at times. Oxford held a 16-10 shots advantage in the contest, although both teams traded off seven shots on target. But CC kept the high-powered Wildcats at bay and from finding their usual rhythm.

Where do you start with this? WE had a rough year,” offered Pulice, whose squad has recovered after a very uncharacteristic start. “It started out like ‘where are we going with this?’ But as we built through the season the team looked more and more like our 2020 state championship team where we don’t have one superstar but we have 26 guys that can all play. The one thing our 2020 team had that this team is (that) we’re a team in every sense of the word. We are united and we’re not playing for the individual player we’re playing for our school first. We’re playing as a team and the philosophy we’ve developed for the players playing for the school – the school is here for the school and the school is here for the team. It’s paid off and I think we got back to seemingly peaking at the right time.”

The physical Shamrocks have won seven games in a row with five shutouts in the recent streak – three straight clean sheets in the postseason – and recorded a 16-3 scoring edge in that seven-game run. Catholic Central was whistled for 18 fouls in the contest but used its physical play to cool the Wildcats’ jets and interrupt their style of play.

Oxford was missing its fourth-year varsity veteran in the middle of the park, senior Diego Madel, an All-State player last season and a freekick specialist within range during his career. The Wildcats still controlled play for spurts and had the more dangerous chances but to no avail.

Oxford came out in attack mode in the first half and had an array of chances and restarts within 40 yards but the Wildcats consistently misfired on those shots or free kicks into the danger zone.

“I think not finishing opportunities early in the game had a little bit more to do with it than our physical ability (and lack of depth),” said Oxford coach Adam Bican. “We were a little bit tired but I’m not going to blame anything on that. They got a couple of goals, we got zero goals and we should have finished our opportunities early. You leave a team like that in the game and give up a goal – they lock it down. Catholic Central knows how to defend. We gave them a one-goal lead and we made a (crucial) mistake on the second goal like we did. That isn’t exactly how we drew it up.

“Those are all of Diego’s” continued Bican of the close-range restarts. “You know what? We have players. Diego is our leader. He is our best player. I’m extremely confident because it’s a team sport that other players can slide in there and do their best as well. We missed Diego a great deal. He’s the one that got us here. To not bring a W home for him is disappointing for us. But one game can’t define what these boys have worked so hard for. I think you look at Diego Madel, Cooper Kaufman and Jay Cady being four-year starters – how they elevated the Oxford soccer program is incredible.”

A powerhouse team in Class B and in Division 2 for many years, Oxford won just its second district title in Division 1 (2014 and 2023) since the school became a Division 1 school in 2010. The program was also ranked the entire season in Division 1 for the first time.

Senior Cooper Caufman summed up the micro-nanism of a night when his 25-yard free kick straight out from goal sailed around the defensive wall and rang off the crossbar with 45 seconds remaining, as the Wildcats threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Shamrocks down the stretch.

Oxford was shut out for just the third time this season, where the Wildcats recorded eight shutouts of their own and outscored the opposition 52-28.

Junior Nolan Mauser finished with five saves for Oxford, including a breakaway with 12 seconds remaining with his entire defense pushed up to get a goal.

Junior Blake Moroun recorded the shutout on seven saves for CC and was quite active helping clear restarts and crosses away from harm’s way throughout the contest for the Shamrocks.

Catholic Central will face Brighton at 7 p.m. Thursday at Grand Blanc for the regional championship.

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