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Late score by McDonald nets TR girls’ soccer district championship

Players on Three Rivers girls’ soccer team celebrate after a goal by Paige McDonald (4) with 92 seconds to go in regulation in Friday’s MHSAA Division 3 district final against South Haven in Dowagiac. Three Rivers won 1-0 on McDonald’s goal and move on to Tuesday’s regional semifinal against Grand Rapids South Christian. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

DOWAGIAC — It appeared for the longest time that Friday’s MHSAA Division 3 girls’ soccer district final between Three Rivers and South Haven in Dowagiac was going to go to overtime.

For approximately 78 minutes and 28 seconds, neither team was able to get much going on offense. There had been a few chances for each team to score, yes, but neither team had been able to keep sustained pressure on the other for long enough to sneak the ball into the net.

But with 92 seconds to go until what seemed to be an inevitable overtime contest, Three Rivers’ Paige McDonald made sure that the final day of classes at Three Rivers High School wouldn’t also be the final day of the TRHS girls’ soccer team’s season.

McDonald dribbled a couple times past a South Haven defender just outside the 10-yard box, then launched a floating kick that went over a couple other Rams defenders and eventually flew over the goalkeeper’s head and into the top right corner of the net, scoring what would eventually be the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory for the Wildcats to secure a district championship in the dying moments of regulation.

“She’s one of the players we rely on all the time, and we’d been trying to get her the ball the whole game,” Three Rivers head coach Travis Shubnell said. “We gave her the green light to go, and it wasn’t easy, but she got a hold of a good shot and got the opportunity at the right time, and put it in when it mattered.

“I knew after that, we had momentum, and that we could hold it down.”

Three Rivers’ defense, which was fairly stingy all game, then held South Haven for the remaining time, with goalkeeper Amaria Currier, who had 12 saves on the day, letting the clock expire on a goal kick to end the match.

It’s the second straight district championship for Three Rivers under Shubnell, whose team went 6-5-3 in the regular season. They move on to face perennial state title contenders Grand Rapids South Christian in Tuesday’s Division 3 regional semifinal match at South Christian at 5 p.m.

Three Rivers girls’ soccer team celebrate their district championship following their 1-0 win over South Haven in the Division 3 district final Friday. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

“They’re really tough; that region’s very good. We’ve been there before; we’re a young team, but we have players that have been there, so it’ll be interesting to see how we do,” Shubnell said.

In the first half of Friday’s match, there were a few shots for each team, but none went to the back of the net. Three Rivers had the majority of the chances, though, but their shots either went straight at the South Haven keeper, or over the net entirely, keeping it scoreless at the half.

In the second half, South Haven had a couple attacks with less than 20 minutes to go, including a couple of corner opportunities midway through the half. Three Rivers also had a couple runs of its own, including one from Natalie McGahan with about 10 minutes remaining, but the shot was left short and wide of the net. With less than four and a half minutes remaining, the Rams received a free kick right outside the box, but the shot was airmailed over the net on what was one of the Rams’ best chances to score on the day.

After a couple of attacking opportunities by both teams following that, McDonald got the ball and scored the lone goal of the match for Three Rivers.

Shubnell praised the defensive effort of both teams in the match to limit the sustained pressure for both teams throughout the evening.

“Both defenses played great. I have to give props to their defense, but our defense held them strong. We worked on that the last couple days in practice, and I’m so proud of them,” Shubnell said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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