BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY —
Leave it to the goalie to know where to place the ball.
Right in the same place he protects.
Senior goalie Colin Lesoski scored the first goal of the shootout, headed back to his net and closed it out on Tuesday as Traverse City Central defeated Traverse City West in Division 1 district play for only the second time in school history.
"It's the biggest win ever," said senior defender Brody Gates, who scored a shootout goal that would turn into the game-winner. "First time beating West. Last time (playing them) ever, last try. Perfect."
The Trojans won on penalty kicks 1-0 after a scoreless regulation and two 10-minute overtime sessions in which both teams had repeated opportunities to score, but goalies Justin Kraft and Lesoski came up big each time.
TC Central started off the shootout with a Lesoski shot to go up, but after five shooters both teams had three goals.
Gates came up and went low left, and Alex Wyant's shot for West was high to set off a mad rush of Central players and students mobbing Lesoski at the 18-yard line.
"Just don't miss," Gates said was what was running through his head as he lined up his shot. "Just put it where I want it and don't miss."
And he didn't.
Lesoski had to stop Cameron Sipple to extend the shootout to get it to Gates.
"I saw it, because he faked with his hips one way, so I went the opposite way," Lesoski said. "I put everything I got and reached out and got one hand on it, and that was all I needed to push it wide of the net. When I got up and yelled, everyone saw how much that meant."
Taylor Cook and Lesoski scored on Central's first two PKs, while West had one from Brad Richey after the Titans' first two shooters. Noah Cobb and Dan Montgomery scored on West's two next shots and Kraft stopped two Central shots for a 3-2 lead heading into the final of the first five shooters.
Kalvis Hornburg tied it back up with a low left goal, and Lesoski stopped Sipple from clinching a Titan win.
"I had to take it first and get that out of the way and then just focus on making all the saves," Lesoski said. "I haven't done that before. But now that I've got it out of my way, I feel like I can do anything right now."
Actually, he has. It just didn't count the last time.
After a regular-season game against Midland this year, the two teams staged a shootout.
"We knew we might see them again in districts and we said, 'Hey, no matter what the result is, let's do a shootout afterward, just for practice,'" TC Central coach Rob Boynton said.
Lesoski took a shot in that one — and missed — as the Trojans lost in extra shooters.
"At first I thought I wasn't going to take one, because I wanted to focus straight on making saves," Lesoski said of Tuesday's game. "But we all decided to put it first and get it out of the way, because I knew I had one of the better shots."
"He's always practicing," Boynton said. "Every goalie thinks they're a great PK shooter. At first, he said he didn't want to do it, but we convinced him if he went first that all he had to concentrate was making saves after that. Fortunately, he buried it."
The two teams have tied in their last five regular-season matchups and West (14-4-3) had won the ensuing playoff contest each of the last two years.
"They're few and far between," Boynton said of a win. "So it's huge any time we do that."
Had it not been the playoffs, this game would have been a tie as well. Through 100 minutes of play, neither had found the back of the net, but that's been pretty indicative of how evenly-matched the two teams have been this season. The first game was 1-1 and the second — which clinched part of the Big North Conference title for West — ended with the same 1-1 score.
"The first half, they hit the post a couple times, we had a couple good chances that I thought we could have scored on," Boynton said. "But that's the way the ball bounces, and nobody was able to put one in."
The Trojans (12-5-5) move on to play Alpena in Thursday's district semifinal. The 6 p.m. matchup will be at the Coast Guard fields.
Central beat the Wildcats 5-0 at home and tied 0-0 in Alpena.
"We just couldn't score a goal," Boynton said. "They defended really well. They worked really hard and made it difficult to score goals. Now we get a chance at redemption, and chance to prove the first time we played them is how it should be and the second time was a fluke, not the first time was a fluke and second time is how it should be."