MUSKEGON – It felt like the Muskegon Risers had just won a league championship.
A big, fired-up crowd at Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena counted off the goals as they came, one after the other, in the final minutes of the game.
Then the fans descended onto the field after the clock ran out to collect autographs, congratulate the players and just celebrate with the Risers.
Of course the local team did not win a championship. The Risers have been struggling all season and are nowhere close to even qualifying for the Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoffs.
But they had their final home game of the season on Friday, in front of the biggest crowd of the year, and were determined to leave the fans with a victory following several straight frustrating home losses.
The Risers came through in overwhelming fashion, scoring the final eight goals of the game to capture an exciting 12-5 victory over the Iowa Raptors.
Miguel Flores led the way with four goals while Aldony Mendez had three for Muskegon.
The Risers, now 2-8, with finish the 2022-23 season with a pair of road games in Rochester, New York next weekend.
“It means everything,” said Risers Coach Michael Vollmer. “There is probably some talk in the locker room right now about why we didn’t play like that all year, but we have to take things as they come. We scored 12 goals and gave up five – that’s a recipe to win every game.”
One player who couldn’t have been happier was Risers veteran defender Michael Schmitt, who has been with the team since the beginning, has experienced the ups and downs, and very much wanted to end the home season with a win.
Schmitt played a very big role, scoring two of the final eight goals, his second and third of the season.
Even more importantly, Schmitt and his fellow defenders played a tremendous game in their own zone, bottling up Iowa’s passing and shooting lanes and all but nullifying the visitors’ attack in the second half.
The lockdown defense gave the Risers’ offense room to flourish, and the goals started coming, one after another.
“It’s a lot of fun scoring, but the main thing was we held them to five and our goal was to hold them to six, so we overachieved tonight,” Schmitt said.
“We knew we just wanted to get one for the fans, so we had more of an edge this game. We had only won one game at home. It’s a testament to the fans and we wanted to work hard for them.
“This feels way better than good. It’s almost surreal to finish the season here with a win like that.”
The Risers scored three times in a back-and-forth first period, with two goals from Mendez and one from Flores, and were tied with Iowa 3-3 heading into the second.
Flores led off the second period with his second goal, then Iowa answered, and the score was knotted 4-4 at halftime.
Iowa scored at the 4:19 mark of the third period to take a 5-4 lead, but it was all Risers after that. Schmitt and Cesar Alayo scored in the third and the Risers led 6-5 headed into the fourth.
Then the Risers opened the floodgates with goals from Schmitt, Flores, Mendez, James Dutcher, Flores again, and Alayo in the final period to nail down the runaway win.
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