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BOYS SOCCER: Final Four-bound: Rochester slips past Grand Blanc to win first regional crown since 2002

| October 28, 2016 | Comments (0)

BY DAN STICKRADT

SENIOR EDITOR

dan.stickradt@northoaklandsports.com

Twitter: @LocalSportsFans

ROCHESTER HILLS — Grant Ellison had but one chance Thursday evening and the sophomore seized it.

Ellison scored the biggest goal of his high school career and it was enough to lift Rochester to a 1-0 victory over Grand Blanc in a Division 1 regional final at Rochester Stoney Creek.

The goal was Ellison’s only shot of the game and it sends the Falcons into the Final Four for the first time since 2002 — the year that Rochester captured the state title.

Rochester (15-3-5) will play in the state semifinals next Wednesday at Troy High against the winner of the Troy Athens-Macomb Dakota regional final.

“When the ball popped out, I knew I had the game-winner,” smiled Ellison, who now has a team-leading 11 goals on the campaign. “I knew I had to just shoot it low and it would go in. The goal was wide open. I saw the goalie come out and thought it was going to rebound and it did, and I just put it in. It’s awesome. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to win regionals.”

Senior Demitri Pliakos began the play by sending a through ball to senior Ollie Najor, who had the ball deflect off the back of his leg. Ellison was in the right place at the right time and he one-timed a shot from 18 yards out that sailed into a wide-open net.

The Falcons, who dropped out of the state rankings in early October, have outscored the opposition this season 32-18 with a school record-tying 13 shutouts. Rochester has allowed only three goals in the last eight games, five tallies over the past 12 contests — and have posted a 0.79 team goals-against average.

“Defensively all year, we have been very, very solid. It was evident again today,” said Purgatori. “Grand Blanc is a fantastic team, and they are super, super dangerous. We managed to keep them off the scoreboard, and that’s a huge props to my backline and my keeper and the entire team really. It was just a fantastic game all around.”

And offensively the Falcons prove to be opportunistic.

“We talked about how we wanted to execute, kind of counter because they push a lot of guys up,” said Rochester coach Chris Purgatori on the game’s only goal. “Demetri played a great ball in to Ollie. Ollie couldn’t put it away, but we always talk about crashing the goal, and Grant did that. He crashed the goal and put it in the back of the net.”

Grand Blanc held a 9-5 shots edge, including 6-3 with shots on frame, but could not get a shot past Rochester’s stingy defense.

Brad Carlson notched the clean sheet on six saves.

Grand Blanc went on a tear the second half of the campaign, winning the KLAA-West Division title and KLAA Tournament to climb into the top 20 just before the state tournament.

ON THE MOVE: Rochester senior Evan Hubble tries to manuerver around Grand Blanc senior Austin Hobbs. PHOTO |Ken Swart

ON THE MOVE: Rochester senior Evan Hubble tries to manuerver around Grand Blanc senior Austin Hobbs. PHOTO |Ken Swart

The Bobcats (14-6-5) had a flurry of chances in the first half, including a breakaway stopped by Carlson and two shots that clanked off the top of the crossbar.

“Credit to Rochester because they are a very good defensive team. They didn’t give us much,” said veteran Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler. “We like to push it to the wings and then get the ball central. The things that we have been successful with this season we weren’t able to do. Rochester took that away from us. We had 3-4 nice chances and hit the crossbar twice, just couldn’t get one through.”

Bennett Stokes finished with two saves for Grand Blanc, including punching a rocket by Pliakos over the crossbar in the 10th minute. Pliakos had another shot hit the goal post in the second half.

“We had 17 new players this year. The way we started was a little rough, especially the schedule we hold,” said Kehler. “I’m pretty proud of the way they rallied around each other, ended up winning the KLAA. We came in the tournament and did a good job. This game could have went either way. My hat’s off to Rochester. They’re a tough team, and I hope they do well.”

Rochester is now 2-3 all-time in regional final games. The Falcons lost in the Elite Eight in 1990, 1992 and 2007 to go along with regional titles in 2002 and 2016.

SLIPPING BY: Rochester's Demetri Pliakos slips past Grand Blanc's Anthony Gasso during Thursday's Division 1 regional finals.  PHOTO | KEN SWART

SLIPPING BY: Rochester’s Demetri Pliakos slips past Grand Blanc’s Anthony Gasso during Thursday’s Division 1 regional finals. PHOTO | KEN SWART

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About Dan Stickradt: DAN STICKRADT | SENIOR EDITOR dan.stickradt@northoaklandsports.com View author profile.

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