NEW PALESTINE — Sweet, sweet revenge.
After losing to Greenfield-Central 2-1 on Sept. 16, one of only three losses for the New Palestine girls soccer team, the Dragons wanted nothing more than a rematch with the Cougars come tournament time.
New Palestine, led by junior Katie Settergren’s early second-half goal, got the rematch and revenge it wanted Tuesday during the opening round of sectional play, besting Greenfield-Central 1-0 in a heated battle.
The victory gives the Dragons, who won the sectional title in 2014, seven straight wins and a date with Mt. Vernon in the New Palestine Sectional 23 championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“All 22 girls on the field played like this was the sectional championship game,” Greenfield-Central coach Erin Clark said. “Give it to New Palestine, they played well and beat us.”
In typical fashion, the county and conference rivals battled their way through a scoreless — yet physical — first half of play that saw Dragons’ (14-3) senior Gabbie Pierson make four saves while Greenfield-Central’s (6-6-2) Kayla Enochs (sophomore) registered six.
New Palestine made the most noise in the box, though, with two opportunities to score within the first four minutes of action. At the 28-minute mark, Dragon leading scorer, senior Katie Villiger, was fouled just outside the top of the box and was awarded a free kick.
Senior Courtney Smith took the kick and nearly found net but was wide left. That would be the theme in the opening half as both teams struggled to get many solid looks.
“We tried something different, and it wasn’t quite working for us,” New Palestine assistant coach Justin Holden said of the first half. “We probably gave them too many opportunities. It wasn’t our best half of soccer.”
Greenfield-Central freshman Tristan Ailes and junior Reagan Collins both nearly capitalized just before the break. Ailes squeaked through the New Palestine defense at the 16-minute and lobbed a ball from about 15 yards out that was inches away from the clipping the right goal post.
Collins was much closer, and if not for Pierson’s save with under nine minutes remaining, the Cougars would have led 1-0 at the intermission. Pierson stormed Collins, who split two Dragon defenders, just feet outside the goal and forced the forward to pop the ball right into her ready hands.
“They (my team) came out and played hard and left everything on the field,” Clark said. “I could not be more proud of the way they played.”
Fans would not have to wait long for the offense to show up in the second half, as Settergren scored her fifth goal of the season with 33:37 left to play from 18 yards out, giving New Palestine a 1-0 lead. She caught Greenfield-Central’s keeper out of position and behind a crowd, giving the Dragons much needed momentum.
“We were like, ‘Did that go in?’,” Dragons head coach Gina Fannin said. “I think the keeper had a delayed reaction. It was the shot we wanted.”
Added Holden, “We knew from our last game with them that our shots were going to come from the 18 (yards out). They wanted to crowd the box.”
Collins nearly connected with a goal for the Cougars with just under 20 minutes left in the contest, but Pierson was in perfect position, like most of the night, to stop the equalizer. That would be the major threat of the half as Pierson and the New Palestine defense tallied its 11th shutout of the season.
Pierson finished with six saves while Enochs recorded 11.
“We can count on Gabbi to pretty much get whatever comes her way,” Fannin said. “She was ready for it and on it today. She was not letting anything by her.”
Now, all eyes turn to the Marauders, who the Dragons edged 2-1 in double overtime Sept. 9.
“It’s the rivalry,” Fannin said of what makes Mt. Vernon a scary team. “They go all out. They play harder (against us) than any team on our schedule. You’re not just playing another team, you’re playing a rival team.”
1st 2nd Final
GC 0 0 0
NP 0 1 1