NEW PALESTINE — Last year’s sectional semifinal loss didn’t settle well with the Greenfield-Central Cougars. Knocked out of the postseason on penalty kicks by New Palestine, Luke Tuttle supplied the payback on Thursday night.
The Greenfield-Central senior scored the evening’s lone goal in the 44th minute and the defense clamped down throughout as the Cougars won a crucial Hoosier Heritage Conference match 1-0.
“Losing last year in sectional, we had our eye on this game since that one,” Tuttle remarked. “We were looking forward to this game, especially after losing to Mt. Vernon. We wanted to bounce back in the conference.”
The win was the Cougars’ first since defeating HHC foe Pendleton Heights 2-0 on Aug. 30. Since then, the team tied Franklin Community 1-1 and dropped a hard-fought match with HHC front-runner Mt. Vernon (8-1, 5-0 HHC) 2-1 last Thursday.
Greenfield-Central opened the season a sizzling 4-0 by outscoring their opponents 23-0. With 24 goals scored overall before the opening whistle, all they needed was one to get back on track and in the HHC race.
Tuttle almost put the Cougars ahead early as he flirted with his fourth goal of the season early in the first half, firing a header toward New Palestine goalkeeper Adam Hunt, which he promptly stopped.
Hunt finished with five saves against seven shots on goal.
Trevor Sawyer rocketed a solid right-footed boot for one of Greenfield-Central’s five first-half shots on goals, but once again Hunt wrapped up the potential threat.
In the second half, however, the ball had eyes, slipping past Hunt with 36:10 left in the match.
Tuttle won possession nearly 20 yards out, dead center of the net, secured it, turned, and let it fly. The ball sailed low, hitting the ground and bounced up through Hunt’s arms and over his shoulders to sneak into the net.
“I just put the ball where I needed, made a move and kicked it through,” Tuttle said. “I kind of got lucky there with a lucky bounce.”
The play unfolded 24 seconds after Greenfield-Central’s Clay Kelley was issued a yellow card in New Palestine’s side of the field, which energized the Cougars.
The Cougars pressured the ball after the call and set up their attack, leading to Tuttle’s opportunity.
“He got a lucky one, and I say lucky because you take shots, and you hope they go in. Sometimes you just have to test the goalkeeper,” Greenfield-Central head coach Matt McConnell said. “He’s a good goalkeeper, and sometimes the ball bounces your way.”
Hunt came into the match with 24 saves through five games and one shutout. Greenfield-Central’s Braiden Sticka nearly added a second goal on a penalty kick with 52.8 seconds remaining, but his shot hit off the left post.
“They’re a good club and have some good guys up top like James Pridgen. We know about him, a lot of our guys play club together, so we know what to expect,” McConnell said. “We respect them. They played a good game.”
The Dragons (6-3, 2-1 HHC) ramped up their attack the rest of the match, challenging Cougars’ goalkeeper Jack Sifferlen, who responded with three saves in the second half and seven overall.
His defense cleared the rest, including key stands by junior Cole Pierce and junior Zach Tutrow. Freshman Caleb Mundell and junior Sean Julian swarmed the box as well to fend off three Dragons’ shots on goal and five shots in the match.
“Our defense has a fair amount of maturity with them. On paper they look young and inexperienced, but they have a lot of maturity,” McConnell said. “The key for us is don’t panic, so when they don’t, they play well.”
Greenfield-Central 1, New Palestine 0
GCHS (5-1-1, 2-1 HHC);0;1;—;0
NPHS (6-3, 2-1 HHC);0;0;—;0
NP: Adam Hunt 5 saves. GC: Jack Sifferlen 7 saves; Luke Tuttle 1 goal.