By Dave Tomczak
ALLENDALE – With the game, the district championship, and the season on the line, Reeths-Puffer goalie DaMario Chapman didn’t flinch.
Chapman was at his best all day, stopping 16 shots and giving his team a chance to win, despite being badly outshot in the game.
His biggest moments came in the overtime shootout, when he knocked away the first two shots he faced, while his teammates made their attempts. That gave the Rockets a stunning 2-1 win over Spring Lake on Saturday in the Division 2 district title game at Allendale High School.
The district championship is Reeths-Puffer’s third in the past four years. The Rockets lost to Spring Lake in the semifinals last season, and were definite underdogs on Saturday against the O-K Blue Conference champions.
The Rockets improved to 11-8-2 on the season and advance to the Division 2 regionals at Grand Rapids Christian next Wednesday at 5 p.m. The will face the winner of today’s Holland-Byron Center game.
Spring Lake finished the season with an outstanding 16-3-1 record.
Saturday’s game couldn’t have been tighter. Tied 1-1 after regulation, neither team scored in overtime, although Spring Lake finished with a 5-1 shot advantage in OT.
That led to the dramatic overtime shootout, when five selected players from each team go 1-on-1 with the opposing goalie from short range.
Reeths-Puffer’s Jaxon Carpenter and Aidan McHugh scored on their team’s first two attempts, while Chapman knocked away the Lakers’ first two attempts.
“I rely on my athletic ability,” the senior netminder said. “I feel I can get to any corner, just stay on my toes. After I got that first save, the emotions were all over the place, I just had to keep composed.”
Tanner O’Neal hit the third Rockets attempt, then Spring Lake’s Ben Bush scored to keep his team’s hopes alive.
But Dylan Cox scored on R-P’s next turn, giving the Rockets an insurmountable 4-1 lead in the shootout and the district title.
“We used last year’s lessons here today,” said Rockets coach Keith Knapp. “I’m just glad we got to go first in the shootout. Then (Chapman) being able to make that first save, it injected confidence into our shooters and calmed them down a bit.”
Chapman’s most important save of the day may have come in the first half, less than five minutes into the contest.
Spring Lake’s Malachi Mulder broke free down the right side and fired toward the top right corner of the goal, only to have Chapman tip the ball up and over the net.
Just 41 seconds later, the Rockets took a 1-0 lead when Andrew Storck made a crossing pass to Brady Wheeler, who found the net.
Despite heavy offensive pressure from the talented Lakers, the one-goal lead stood until there was only19:10 left in regulation.
That was when a loose ball hit an R-P defender’s hand, and Mulder buried the ensuing penalty shot to tie the game 1-1.
Mulder had an opportunity to give Spring Lake the lead with 3:20 left, when he received a centering pass with an empty net in front of him, but his shot was blocked by Rocket defender Jacob Farrell.
Fate was unkind to Mulder again in overtime, when another potential game-winning shot with 27 seconds left rang off the crossbar.
That led to the dramatic shootout, when Chapman made several big saves and the Rockets stole the win, despite being outshot in the game 17-5.
“(Chapman) personifies our team so well,” Knapp said. “A steady incline of getting better as the season goes. He came up huge today, and that happens to be the same as the team.”