By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Central's Owen Stratton sat out Tuesday's hard-fought 1-0 shootout win over Traverse City West with an injury.
When got on the field Thursday, the sophomore made the most of it.
Stratton scored all three goals for the Trojans and helped the team move on to the Division 1 district final with a 3-0 win over visiting Alpena.
Central (12-5-5) now plays Midland (17-2-2) for the title at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Coast Guard fields.
All three of Stratton's goals against Alpena came in the second half, as the teams headed to the break scoreless.
"Actually, our coach switched me from midfield to target forward to get some goals," Stratton said. "That's what ended up happening."
It did, indeed.
"He's a very dynamic player, and we're a much different team when he plays," Trojans coach Rob Boynton said. "It's easier for us to control the tempo and the pace of the game. With three goals... when he gets a chance he doesn't miss very often."
Stratton scored the game-winner less than four minutes into the second half. Adam Stepan took a shot from the right side, it deflected off the Wildcats keeper and Stratton punched it in for the 1-0 edge.
"Adam got the ball and there wasn't really a way for him to cross it to me, so I was just waiting for the rebound," Stratton said.
He later scored on similar set-ups from Charlie Needham and Jack Dulude for the 3-0 lead. The final goal came with just under 14 minutes to go.
"There were good crosses by our outside forwards," Boynton said. "Charlie Needham and then Jack Dulude had good services into the box. Owen was able to be in the right spot and be on the end of it."
Alpena nearly took a 1-0 lead with under a minute to play before half, but a shot bounced off the Trojans post.
"I thought at the beginning we looked nervous and a little bit tentative," Boynton said. "On Tuesday against West it was easy to play with a ton of emotion and play really hard. But this is a little different for us to be past that hurdle. It took us awhile to settle down and play the way we like to play."
Colin Lesoski recorded eight saves for the shutout in net for the Trojans. Central hasn't given up a goal so far in the playoffs.
Needham also had a strong game moving up to midfield.
"He's played defense most of the year, and when we had to deal without one of our defenders for awhile, Mitchell Ward took over that place in the back and did a really nice job," Boynton said. "We never would have thought of playing Mitchell there for 80 minutes and letting Charlie go up top, until we had to out of necessity. Out of that we thought 'let's give Charlie a shot up top.' And he really did a great job with it. He was so aggressive going to goal, had some great crosses and really added a new dimension to our attack."
Up next for the Trojans is Midland. Central won the regular season meeting 2-1. It was the Chemics first loss of the season.
"They have a couple of really good players," Boynton said. "One of them, his name is Chas Wakeman, he's really dynamic and athletic, so we're going to have to be aware of where he is at all times. The other one, (Dylan Matthews), plays in the midfield and scored a great goal from 25 yards out the last time we played them. So those are the two guys we're really going to have to work on not giving them opportunities to score goals."