FGR took their longest road trip of 2017 on a perfect field hockey afternoon Saturday to the home of Division II power Grand Rapids Forest Hills. The game featured the first and second place teams of Division II squaring off.
The Irish (3-0-0) came into the game undefeated and had beaten Regina 1-0 two days prior. A few hours earlier, Forest Hills (4-1-0) had just finished taking care of Farmington United 5-1 in a Saturday morning contest.
The Irish were realistic in knowing they were going to be in for a tough day. That was confirmed when Forest Hills came out and immediately began controlling the ball and field possession.
In fact, FGR had trouble getting the ball at all. Though the Irish would get glimpses of control, they could not get any sustained offense going.
Meanwhile, Forest Hills wasn’t having an easy time getting through FGR’s defensive setup. This continued for most of the first half as neither side could break the scoreless tie.
Then with 5 minutes left in the half, Forest Hills broke through by converting on a corner opportunity with a goal that came off a rebounded stop by FGR goalkeeper Anna Nalukwago.
Shortly thereafter, Forest Hills got another corner opportunity (of their 17 total on the day) and made the Irish pay again when they found the net. In less than 3 minutes, the Irish had seen a scoreless tie vanish into a two-goal deficit.
In the second half, Forest Hills was just as strong and dominating as the first 30 minutes. Though the Irish kept thwarting attacks into their circle,. the constant pressure began to wear upon FGR’s defense.
With 10 minutes to go in the game, another blocked shot by Nalukwago was rebounded by Forest Hills and sent into the back of the Irish goal. The fate of the Irish, who could not get anything going to draw closer to the divisional leaders, was sealed and the game ended with the FGR being handed their first loss of the season.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” said Coach Craig Flocken. “Forest Hills is one of, if not the top team in Division II. They are loaded with experienced upper-classmen and are well coached. It was going to be an uphill battle before the game even started.
“For being a first year team in the league I thought we played well considering who we were up against. The players never gave up and they worked hard the entire game.”
Flocken said the team will move on from the first loss, learn from it and get better.
“All things considered, we played Forest Hills probably tougher than they were expecting,” he said. “And for that reason the coaching staff is excited as to what is happening here at FGR.”
Earlier last week, the Fighting Irish knocked off Warren Regina 1-0.
FGR came into the game tied for 3rd place in MHSFHA Division II and had last played on Aug 26 when they beat Pinckney 3-1. Regina (0-1-1), meanwhile, was coming off a 1-1 tie vs West Bloomfield on Tuesday.
At the opening whistle, the Irish looked like it was going to take a little while for the players to get used to playing on the slower grass field. Though FGR was moving the ball, they kept running into turnovers and could not get any sustained offensive attacks to materialize.
But the Irish actually was controlling the field of play thanks to strong defensive play which continually stopped any attempts by Regina to move towards the FGR circle. As the half wound down, Gabriel Richard was able to get several corner plays but the Satellite’s defense was up to the task and held strong against efforts by the Irish to score.
In the second half, Regina came out trying to find a way past the Irish defense but to no avail. Gabriel Richard’s defense was stiff and as a result, it started allowing the offense to put major pressure on Regina deep in the Regina zone. As the half wore on, this pressure by the Irish also began to create multiple corner play opportunities.
With 17:12 remaining in the game, FGR was able to capitalize on one of those attempts. Sophomore Molly O’Leary took the initial corner shot, firing a rocket at the Regina goalkeeper Delaney Hart.
Hart made a block which ricocheted the ball to the top of the circle where Irish midfielder Caroline Falahee collected it. Falahee immediately fired another shot back towards the goal but it was offline. As the ball sailed to the right of the goal post, Irish junior Ann Rushing redirected the ball mid-air back into the net to break the scoreless tie and give FGR a 1-0 lead.
From that point forward, the Irish defense took over and never let the Regina offense have a chance to tie the game, preserving the 1-0 shutout and FGR’s first ever Catholic League win.