By JAMES COOK
---- — MUSKEGON — Bellaire was hoping for another shot at Leland.
The Eagles did their part, winning their regional semifinal game. But instead, Bellaire (24-1) will be playing Muskegon Catholic Central (15-7-1) after the Crusaders topped the Comets 2-0 in the bracket's other half.
Bellaire jumped out to a 3-0 lead by halftime and cruised to a 5-2 Division 4 regional semifinal victory over Big Rapids Crossroads Academy in Muskegon.
Last season, Leland bounced the Eagles out of districts with a 9-1 mercy.
A regional final against Leland not only would have been a rematch, but also would have spared Bellaire a long trip back to Muskegon on Friday. If both northwestern Michigan teams had won, the final would have been played in Traverse City.
“They shelled us last year,” Bellaire coach Brad Rowe said after the Eagles win, but prior to Leland's setback. “It was a 9-1 mercy — at our house."
It's Bellaire that's the last local team standing in Division 4 now.
Hunter Rowe put the Eagles up early, striking on a left-footed shot to the net’s far side in the contest’s 10th minute.
Denny Hall put Bellaire up 2-0 with 1:07 remaining in the half.
With 19 ticks left, Adam Underwood finished off a lofted shot from Nic Underwood.
“An early lead is big for us, because it helps with confidence and momentum,” said senior forward Denny Hall, who had a goal and two assists. “It changes the way we play the game.
“We were winning a lot of 50-50 balls, which keeps the ball in our hands. That makes a big difference in a game like that.”
Crossroads opened the second half with an Andrew Duddles goal 1:01 in.
The Eagles responded with Rowe’s second of the night off a Hall assist 7:40 late to go back up by three goals.
“It was big, because from what I understand, Big Rapids was down 2-0 in the district final and they came back and rallied from two down late, tied it up, went into overtime and scored,” coach Rowe said. “Once they scored, they had some momentum. To be able to answer that really helped put us back up.”
Adam Underwood found himself all alone with 11:39 remaining and had time to pick his shot, which he buried for a 5-1 lead.
Big Rapids Crossroads added another Duddles goal with 23:32 remaining to pull within 5-2, but the score would stay that way until the final horn sounded and Bellaire had its first regional soccer victory in school history.
And when that horn went off, there was no big celebration from the Eagles. There were a few high-fives and some handshakes, but nothing much.
“We just try to stay humble and modest,” Hall said. “We’re in a position where we can make a run. It’s the first time Bellaire has gotten this far, so we’re going to try to keep it rolling.”
“That has been our mantra all season,” coach Rowe said. “It’s just trying to take care of business. If you’re the favored team, get out there and do your job and don’t get too high, too low. At this time of the year, just try to get through the tournament and survive to the next round.”
The early lead was something Rowe really wanted to take the pressure off.
“I think it’s always easier to play from the front,” coach Rowe said. “There’s a little bit of pressure on. I think we were the favored team in this game. Not in the region, by any means; but I think we were favored in this game. So the kids had some pressure on them to do well and to play well. And to get out in front early allowed them to calm down.
"We knew we had to play 80 minutes to match their intensity. And they did, I think.”
Senior defenseman Colin May was a key cog in keeping the Cougars off the board as much as the Eagles did.
“Colin May was huge defensively for us,” Brad Rowe said. “Denny and Hunter and Adam Underwood are always strong goal scorers for us, but Colin May really played a fantastic game for us back there. He has been the glue that holds that defense together.”
The two teams were about even on possession time and opportunities. But Adam Crandall came up with more saves than his counterpart and the Eagles were able to bury their prime scoring chances.
“We didn’t capitalize on all the ones we could, but we definitely capitalized on the important ones,” Hall said. “And that’s what matters.”