NEW PALESTINE — With 10 minutes remaining in Saturday night’s Sectional 23 final, the Mt. Vernon Marauders were staring at a third straight one-goal loss to New Palestine in a sectional championship match.
Trailing 1-0 after 70 minutes, Mt. Vernon decided enough was enough and put it all on the line. They poured on the pressure and came away with two goals in the final six minutes to win the sectional title 2-1, the school’s first in girls soccer in 19 years.
“I’m speechless,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Williams said during a break from his team’s celebration. “With 10 minutes to go it was all desperation; we started pushing people forward and hoped for the best.”
Just after kickoff, both teams had a chance to take the lead.
First, defending Hancock County Player of the Year, senior Katie Villiger, sent a through ball to junior Kaitlyn Settergren, but her shot sailed just over the bar.
Off the ensuing goal kick, Mt. Vernon freshman Cleo Mills had a breakaway, but New Palestine defender Courtney Smith matched Mills’ speed and ended the threat with a clean tackle.
The rest of the first half saw the Dragons control possession and the scoreboard.
In the 10th minute, freshman Victoria Crowder chipped a 24-yard free kick over the outstretched hands of Mt. Vernon senior goalkeeper Avery Haines for a 1-0 lead.
Despite the goal, Haines remained poised throughout the rest of the game, tallying seven saves overall. Her highlight save came in the 31st minute when she tipped Cassidy Wilhelm’s shot off the cross bar to maintain her team’s one-goal deficit.
New Palestine continued to dominate the game in the second half despite Mt. Vernon’s attempts to unlock the Dragon defense.
“We were trying just about everything,” Williams said. “We tried different substitutions, we tried three forwards at one point, but nothing was working.”
Though unable to get on the scoreboard, they were only down one, and with six minutes remaining, a moment of individual brilliance equalized the margin.
Freshman Alexi Hardie dribbled past three New Palestine defenders in the penalty box to give herself enough space to fire home a shot past Dragon senior keeper Gabby Pierson.
Later, Mt. Vernon earned a corner kick, which pinged around the box and fell onto the right foot of freshman Cleo Mills, who slotted home the winning goal with 1:33 remaining.
“I thought we were the better team today,” New Palestine coach Gina Fannin said. “But I told the girls that’s how life is; sometimes things just won’t bounce your way.”
Mt. Vernon can now look forward to the regional, where it will play Roncalli at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Shelbyville.