BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
UTICA – Rochester Stoney Creek did not need to pepper Rochester’s net with shots in order to score Friday evening.
The third-ranked Cougars seemingly had the Midas Touch.
The Cougars attempted only six shots, fired just five shots on frame and scored three times at Utica’s Swinehart Stadium. The end result was a thrilling 3-1 victory over the undefeated and top-ranked Falcons in the Division 1 district finals of the toughest district in the state.
It was a case of the third time was a charm for Stoney Creek’s seniors, who lost in the district finals the last two years. Two years ago, the Cougars were upset by Romeo (1-0) despite not yielding a single shot the final 68 minutes. Last year Stoney Creek was ousted by Rochester 2-1 in a game that reached a shootout (4-3 on penalties).
The Cougars (22-1-1), who have established a new school record for wins this season, are now in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018 and will face unranked but defending D-1 state champion Bloomfield Hills at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Rochester High School. New Baltimore Anchor Bay and Troy Athens will face off in the other regional semifinal at Rochester.
Pushed up in the attack for the final two minutes of the first half, Stoney Creek senior Lily Solek was – fittingly and almost by divine invention – in the right place at the right time. After Rochester (18-1-2) failed to clear the ball on multiple attempts, Solek collected the ball in the middle of the box and her low shot from 12 yards out sailed inside the left post with only six seconds left in the half.
That shot proved to be the go-ahead and game-winning goal for the Cougars. The youngest of four Solek sisters, Lily Solek was quick to dedicate the goal to her older sister Emily Solek, who scored a goal in the 2016 state championship win over Plymouth Canton but was tragically killed in an automobile accident in the summer of 2020.
“Someone crossed it, it hit, a few players missed it, and it ricocheted off and it was kind of like putting it back to last year when I scored the tying goal versus Rochester last year with eight seconds left,” said Solek. “And there was a few seconds left in this half, (I) just slotted it in far post, and it was an amazing feeling.
“Finally beating Rochester when it really matters is such an amazing feeling,” continued the youngest Solek. “I was just so happy to be able to play it in the No. 8 jersey my sister (Emily) wore.”
Rochester’s stellar two-year run of 35-2-6 and three-year record of 45-5-9 came to a crashing and unexpected end on the pitch. Only two losses in two years – both came in the postseason – end the prep careers of a dominant senior class far shy of its goal of a first state championship.
It was a case of wasted opportunity for Rochester, which controlled play for much of the match, posted a 17-6 total shots edge and a 11-6 edge with shots on frame but suffered its first and only loss of the season and first defeat since the 2022 state semifinals loss to Northville (2-1).
“It’s been a great group of seniors. They set the standard for the future. I think they turned this program around,” admitted Rochester fourth-year coach Doug Steinard. “We were ranked No. 1 in the state. We were ranked nationally. It’s criminal that us and Stoney (Creek) are playing in a district finals again. You have the two best teams in the state playing in a final when there’s a lot of soccer left. But it is what it is. (The MHSAA) is not going to change it.
“You’ve got to finish your opportunities,” continued Steinard, noting his team’s lopsided edge on scoring chances and shots. “I think we gave away some bad opportunities that (Stoney Creek) finished. We didn’t finish. That’s the game (of soccer) sometimes.”
Rochester came out on fire and had multiple chances early but kept misfiring on shots wide of the net.
Stoney Creek senior and reigning Miss Soccer Lilley Bosley had a breakaway stopped cold by Rochester sophomore goalkeeper Alice Max in the seventh minute. The University of Michigan signee buried her shot at redemption with 20:53 remaining to give her side a 1-0 advantage.
Collecting a feed on the left side of the penalty box from junior midfielder Sarina Shah, Bosley took a touch, beat her defender and laced a left-footed shot across traffic that sailed inside the far post for her 39th goal of the season.
Rochester finally netted the equalizer when senior forward Natalie Rayce corralled a pass from just outside the box from senior forward Alaina Webb, turned and fired a laser through traffic that landed inside the left post with 15:20 to go in the first half.
The scoring chances continued to mount for Rochester, but the Falcons could not beat Stoney Creek sophomore goalkeeper Merrick Schwalbach again. Schwalbach recorded 10 saves in net and also snared countless crosses and restarts out of harm’s way all evening.
Stoney Creek only had one shot on goal in the second half and it was lethal. Shah’s chip shot from 35 yards out sailed directly at Max, but slipped through her hands and over the goal line and before Max could recover the rolling ball. The tally gave the Cougars a two-goal lead with 16:52 remaining an capped the scoring.
“District finals have not always been kind to me and this program,” noted Stoney Creek coach Bryan Mittelstadt. “We’ve lost a few times in the district finals, including the last two years. So it’s nice to get one again. Winning districts around here sure aren’t an easy thing to do.”
Being opportunistic is what the Cougars’ main objective was against Rochester, which had not given up three goals in a contest since April of 2022 in a 4-3 win over Bloomfield Hills.
“We worked on (finishing) a lot in practice the other day,” continued Mittelstadt, who guided the Cougars to the D-1 state title seven years ago.
“We just talked about hitting the net (with shots) was the main thing,” added Mittelstadt. “We just said we’re not going to take a lot of shots, but we want to see nets (move) the other day. I think the kids took that to heart. We didn’t have a ton of chances but we were able (to convert).”