FENTON — Sacred Heart took third place in Class 1 for the second year in a row with a 1-0 win over Belle on Saturday at the Worldwide Technology Park.
Francisco Rojas recorded the winning goal in the 74th minute, tapping in a Josue Nunez cross from three yards out.
The Gremlins spent the final 23 minutes facing a nine-man Belle lineup after one player picked up his second yellow card of the game in the 52nd minute and another drew a straight red in the 58th. With more open space to work with, Sacred Heart had chances but Rojas sent a header wide in the 62nd minute and Will Prenger put a shot off the post and into the arms of Belle keeper Joseph Moman. In the 73rd minute, Max Martin had a quality look after working the ball into the penalty area from a corner kick, but Moman stepped in to deny him.
“It just seemed like it wasn’t our game at all,” Martin said. “Just trying to stay positive. We had a really bad first half and a pretty bad game so we were just trying to keep the mentality high when nothing was going our way.”
Sebastian Aguero made three saves including a leap to tip the ball over the bar on a header in the 69th minute.
“Sebastian’s a great player, there’s no doubt about it,” said Sacred Heart coach Travis Cooper. “He’s come up big for us all year. He’s a kid that’s absolutely a threat on the field too, he’s just a universal player, but his home’s in the goal. That’s where he’s been trained at and played more of his life.”
Belle had a few other chances, with the defense clearing away most of them including Teagan Trammell getting back to stop a run in the 70th minute.
“It was another one of those kick-and-run games,” said Gremlins center back Chance Spangler. “It got pretty physical there, but we just kept our heads.”
By halftime, Belle had been whistled for 11 fouls, one of which came just 17 seconds before the halftime whistle. The Tigers then drew a yellow card 12 seconds into the second half, one of six in the game between the two teams. Cooper compared Belle’s style of play to that of the Gremlins’ quarterfinal opponent.
“Belle’s a lot like Laquey.. they’re rough kids,” he said. “We just absorb it and go on. We’ve played against teams like that all year when you get down into that area. You just have to keep your head and keep your composure.”
Though it wasn’t the game they wanted to be playing in, the Gremlins still came away with a third-place trophy. Heading into the 2014 season, Sacred Heart had never reached the Final Four. Now seniors Martin, Spangler, Prenger, Kolin Brace, Chris Mergen and Brenden Volcko leave with back-to-back third-place finishes.
“I think it’s a big deal for our school,” Spangler said. “I think it’s really pushing the younger guys to get to this point and I really think they can.”
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles