NEW PALESTINE — There was minimal celebration at match’s end. A few smiles and laughs cracked through their inscrutable stares, but they were quickly subdued.
The Mt. Vernon girls soccer team came into New Palestine focused to win on Wednesday night, nothing less. Victorious 3-2 as the final horn sounded, their black jerseys hung off their shoulders like business suits.
The Marauders increased their season goals scored total to 53. They left the field a perfect 8-0 on the year, a far cry from last year’s 4-3-1 mark at this point. Their 4-0 record in the Hoosier Heritage Conference puts them in first, and more importantly, in control of their destiny.
“It’s in our hands now,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Williams remarked after his team broke their huddle. “Now, we just need to take care of the rest of it.”
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Losing to New Palestine a year ago 2-1 in double overtime, bonus minutes were avoided as Cleo Mills brought the fire the Marauders needed.
Mills broke a 1-1 tie in the game’s 35th minute and put the Marauders ahead 3-1 with a slick goal in the second half’s fifth minute.
Mills’ goals came off of assists from Lexi Hardie and Morgan Scruggs, but the finishes were all hers. On the first, she played the ball off a pass from the midfield and worked inside the box to find the perfect head-on angle off her right foot.
The second unfolded in smooth transition as she attacked with purpose for her team leading 14th goal of the season.
“That finish she had on her goal was really nice. I’ve been talking to her about it, thinking of it as a pass and not a shot all the time,” Williams said. “She was thinking it through as she was coming in. There are a lot of girls that would stop outside the 20 and take one, but then regret not taking it in. She thought it through all the way.”
The Marauders had offense on their minds the entire 80 minutes, lining 10 shots on goal and 17 shots overall, pushing New Palestine freshman goalkeeper Haley Weinreich.
She finished with four saves, but the Marauders’ pressure proved difficult to tame.
“She’s playing hard, and you can’t ask for much more, especially taking shots off those three they have up top,” New Palestine head coach Gina Fannin said. “I mean, come on. We could have a seasoned goalkeeper, and they would still put those away.”
The Dragons (4-2, 1-1 HHC), who won the conference title last year, didn’t go quietly, despite trailing 1-0 after Nicole Ratts scored a goal with 29:25 left in the first half.
“It doesn’t matter how good you think you are or how good you are, this game is always a big rivalry,” Williams said. “This was a big conference game.”
New Palestine tied the game 1-1 behind a goal from Maya Stirm, who played an assist from Olivia Lambdin perfectly with a hesitation fake. She slid the ball past Jaici Wright, who entered the match allowing just three goals in 360 minutes.
A goal from Haley Harrison cut the deficit to 3-2 early in the second half. Harrison played the entire junior varsity match prior to the final 40 minutes in the varsity contest, brought up as a reserve. New Palestine was coming off a 3-2 loss to Franklin Central on Sept. 3.
“They’re learning they don’t like losing,” Fannin said. “They came back and played better in the second half, but we just didn’t quite get it done. They definitely don’t like getting scored on. When they do, they like to come right back and equal it up. That’s what’s in them.”
Mt. Vernon 3, New Palestine 2
MVHS (8-0, 4-0 HHC);2;1;-;3
NPHS (4-2, 1-1 HHC);1;1;-;2
Goals: Nicole Ratts, Cleo Mills 2 (MV); Maya Stirm, Haley Harrison (NP)
Assists: Briahna Angelopulos, Morgan Scruggs, Lexi Hardie (MV); Olivia Lambdin (NP)