45-yard goal sparks Williamston’s stunning comeback in girls soccer state finals

EAST LANSING, MI – Holding a 2-1 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the second half of its Division 3 girls soccer state championship game, Hudsonville Unity Christian was poised to take home title trophy No. 11.

Then, Williamston senior Liz Bellinger put her powerful right leg into a free kick from 45 yards out and drilled the ball into the top corner to breathe life back into her Hornets team.

Nine minutes later, Williamston felt its robust fanbase into another frenzy, when senior Kaley Douglass outmuscled a Unity Christian defender to gather the ball at the corner of the box and chip a pass to Breyer Fenech, who buried a shot from 12 yards out to cap an unlikely 3-2 comeback win Saturday at DeMartin Stadium.

“Honestly, I practice those shots all the time,” Bellinger said of her game-tying goal. “Whether it’s corners or anywhere, on-frame is what I’m aiming for, and whether we get the second ball or it just goes in the net the first time – I was not expecting that to go in, but being able to hit it on frame was all I cared about… Absolutely amazing.”

PICTURES: See our gallery from the Division 3 girls soccer state championship game

The late fireworks were a fitting finish for a state title game featuring Division 3′s top-two teams, and the championship match also opened with a bang, as No. 2 Unity Christian scored less than five minutes in, when Olivia Bosworth collected a rebound in front of the net and buried a ball past Williamston keeper Abby Pieper.

The Hornets answered less than two minutes later with a penalty kick goal from Douglass, after Unity Christian goalkeeper Morgan Scholten was whistled for taking down a Williamston player in a race to a loose ball in the box.

After an evenly matched first 20 minutes of the second half, Unity Christian broke the tie with a goal from freshman Ava Lutke, who one-timed Jessie Postma’s perfect cross pass.

Williamston’s bench received a yellow card in the aftermath, but the Hornets didn’t fold and finally got a break when Bellinger lined up her long-distance strike.

“I think that was definitely a turning point,” Bellinger said. “With the energy kind of falling apart at the beginning of the second half, that was really need. It was definitely a team effort, though, in getting everyone up and doing their job to get to that point.”

Williamston kept his foot on the gas after tying the game, forcing Scholten to make a leaping save on a ball headed for the top corner with five minutes left, before the terrific combination of Douglass and Fenech put the Hornets ahead with 1:21 left.

“That was tough. The last goal they had was just a thing of beauty,” Unity Christian coach Randy Heethuis said. “I have to tip my hat to Williamston because they battled hard. When we went up 2-1, they did what they do. They weren’t rattled; they were composed and worked the ball around.”

Though Unity Christian (21-2-1) failed to add to its Division 3 state-record championship collection, the Crusaders made it back to the finals for the first time since 2016, and they return a lot of talent for what should be a promising 2023 season.

“We have a lot of good kids returning, so this stings, but we’ll hopefully be back,” Heethuis said. “Yeah, we’re disappointed with the way that game ended, but man, with this atmosphere like this today and on a beautiful day like this, it’s hard to be too down. I’m just pleased with the girls. They battled, and it was a fantastic season.”

Playing in its third championship game, Williamston avenged previous final losses to Unity Christian in 2008 and 2010 to make program history.

“This is absolutely unbelievable, for sure,” Bellinger said. “…I think we made it here as a team, and I want to thank all my teammates. I think we all appreciate the support, the staff, and like I said before, I think we did it for the team in 2008 that made it here, the teams that never made it, the teams in 2010 and 2015, I think we got the job done for them this year, and I think it was well-deserved by all of us.”

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