MERRILLVILLE — Sometimes a sense of urgency has been required for Michigan City to play its best soccer this season.
"It's taken us going a goal down two, three times to wake up," Wolves coach David Harris said. "I want us to play a like we're a goal down from the start, like we're doing it for real."
Form held true in Monday's Class 3A Merrillville Sectional match with Portage, where City (8-7-1) netted three unanswered goals to erase a second-half deficit and bounce the Indians 4-2.
"I feel when our backs are to the wall, we really start playing," said Riley Shreve, who scored twice in a span of 90 seconds. "It was like, oh crap, our season's going to end tonight if we don't kick it into a higher gear and win this game. The first (time we played Portage), we were up 2-1 (and lost 5-2). We couldn't let that happen again."
Down 1-0 at the half, Portage (8-8) took the lead on a pair of penalty kicks by Andrew West.
"I thought we had controlled the game for the most part. We just didn't find the net," acting Portage coach Mike Liesch said. "We could've easily had four, five goals."
Liesch filled for Dave Bock, who could not coach after drawing two yellow cards in last week's Valpo match. The Indians were without Stephen Szakacs for the same reason and two starters were out with injuries, while West and Daniel Prohl were among players who sat the first half for team discipline.
"No excuses," Liesch said. "It's next man up. (West) really worked the second half. That's the most I've seen him run in a while."
Portage's lead lasted less than two minutes as M.C.'s Imad Hamdi used some slick ball handling to get his foot free for a short-range shot and score.
"If we want to be great, we have to do things that great teams do," Harris said. "I liked our combination play. Our communication was better. We kept our composure."
Shreve put the Wolves back in front in the 78th minute, sliding in traffic to get his right foot on the ball and slip it past a charging Ethan Ables in the goal box.
"That was all Erik Hultgren," Shreve said. "I was just making a diagonal run and he played the ball back."
Shreve quickly struck again with 10:43 left, knocking in a shot from about 20 yards on a failed clearing attempt.
"We dropped our heads after the third (goal)," Liesch said. "The defense got caught out of position a couple times. The fourth goal was just a good shot. We weren't quick enough."
Keeper Gabriel Galvan stopped a penalty kick by Portage in the first half and had a leaping save in the late going to sustain City's advantage. Harris praised the play of Shreve and Hultgren among the rest of the Wolves.
"Riley's definitely a finisher," Harris said. "He's one of those guys who just has the instincts. Erik's somebody we can play all over. We can slot him in anywhere. I feel for Portage. It's unfortunate, but you can play who they field."
City will play Chesterton on Wednesday in the semifinals.