BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Another Traverse City Central-Traverse City West soccer game, another tie.
What else do you expect?
The rivals battled Thursday to a 1-1 deadlock — their second this season by the same score — to make it five straight regular-season ties between the two.
But while it was perhaps just another tie for Central, it was a little more for West. The Titans (14-3-2, 9-0-2 Big North Conference) clinched at least a share of their third straight BNC crown.
"This game was a little better played than the first," West coach Jason Carmien said. "But when it comes down to it, there's just not that much that separates the two teams, to be honest. We both have good goalkeepers. Our goalkeeper came up with a great save to pull the game out and Colin (Lesoski) made several good saves for them. Rob has them believing and playing hard and playing well. We're going to have to see them again for the first round of districts, and that will probably be another very close game."
The similarities don't end there.
The goal-scorer for each team was in his second game back from an injury. West's goal came from Christien Geiger in the first half, and Central's Owen Stratton evened it up in the second.
Geiger scored the Titans' only goal with 16 seconds left before halftime off a Brad Richey assist, putting West up 1-0 with the same right foot that has a dislocated toe.
"Brad Richey got the first touch and kind of knocked it into the center and I ran in and booted it into the net," Geiger said. "It was kind of off my (injured) toe. It kind of hurt a bit, but it was worth it. It's still a little swollen. But if I get it taped up, it doesn't hurt too bad."
Geiger missed two weeks with the injury.
"His foot still hurts, but he's been able to play through the pain," Carmien said. "Maybe with a couple more matches before Central again, he can shake some rust off. He's back and he's as healthy as he's going to be. We need Christien to provide some danger behind defenses. In the big games that he's played, he's our leading scorer. When we play quality competition, he's been able to get in the goal — and he did it again tonight."
Stratton's goal came with 22:23 remaining, with Briac Le Guen picking up an assist with a header flick pass.
"It wasn't the best goal," Stratton said. "It didn't look pretty or anything, but it was a goal. A goal is a goal. It still counts."
Stratton had just been re-inserted into the game about 15 seconds before knotting up the game.
"He came out when Reilly (deTar) got the (yellow) card and I was just trying to think of ways to get more creative up top," Central coach Rob Boynton said. "We could get to 30 yards from goal frequently, but couldn't get that last little bit in. And Owen's a very creative player. So I thought maybe he could get in there one versus one. Sure enough, it was a good finish."
Like Geiger, Stratton has missed the last week and a half with shin splints and was in his second game back from the injury.
Both teams also had a ball cleared off the goal line by a defender — Central in the first half and West in the final three minutes.
"You can't get much more even than that," Boynton said.
Stratton almost gave the Trojans (10-5-5, 7-1-3 BNC) a 2-1 lead, but West's Justin Kraft made a diving save with 2:45 left.
"That was a pretty good save, I have to admit," Stratton said. "I got past (the defender) and then I really didn't know which corner to go to, so I went for the top corner and I should have gone bottom corner."
The Titans' title is their 13th in 16 seasons.
Central and West play each other again Oct. 16 on West's field in the opening round of districts.
"Last year was at our place," Boynton said. "This year is over here, so maybe it'll be different. It'd be nice if it'd be our turn. But nobody is going to give it to us. We have to go earn it."
TC West plays Tuesday at Petoskey to finish the regular season, while Central closes out at Ogemaw Heights on Thursday. A win by West would clinch the outright title.