NEW PALESTINE — Matthew McConnell had a plan in place.
Before his Greenfield-Central Cougars’ sectional championship match Saturday night at New Palestine, the head coach wanted his players to embrace the present by respecting their past.
“We brought back people from every sectional win we had and had them talk to the boys,” McConnell said. “They talked a lot about what this is like.”
Former players from the program’s title runs in 1995, 2003, 2011 and 2013 shared their wisdom during a special meeting held at the high school.
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Their words didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“Hearing them before the game, their stories, it gave us extra motivation,” Greenfield-Central senior midfielder Luke Tuttle said. “I played with a few of them my freshman year when we won that sectional championship, and just remembering that made us want it even more.”
Facing an uphill battle against Mt. Vernon (13-3), the defending sectional and 2016 outright Hoosier Heritage Conference champions, the Cougars (13-2-1) carved out their own place in history after a fierce 94-minute marathon.
Tied 1-all following regulation and two overtime periods, Greenfield-Central captured the program’s second sectional championship in four years — the second senior group to achieve the feat — with a flawless 3-0 shootout finale.
“For this team to get this championship is a dream come true,” Tuttle said. “We knew we had the talent and the chemistry from the beginning, if we worked hard. That’s what we did all season, and here’s the outcome. Incredible.”
Resiliency defined the Cougars, who won their second straight shootout in four nights. Greenfield-Central won 4-2 in penalty kicks on Wednesday to claw past HHC foe Shelbyville in the sectional semifinals.
Saturday’s victory was sweeter, however, especially for Tuttle, who helped the Cougars avenge their 2-1 regular-season loss to Mt. Vernon while exorcising his own past.
Falling to New Palestine 5-4 in a shootout during the sectional semifinals last year, Tuttle couldn’t help but replay the scenario in his head as he lined up and buried the game-winner.
“Last year, I was in the same situation. I was the fifth PK,” Tuttle recalled. “I missed, and we ended up losing that game. I wanted to finish this one.”
Tuttle sealed it with a line drive into the net, but goalkeeper Jack Sifferlen provided the assist, denying the Marauders on three consecutive penalty kicks in the best of five tiebreaker.
“That kid took four PKs tonight, and really their only good opportunities were on PKs,” McConnell said. “Credit Jack for that, but the defense played absolute lock down all night. We take some risks on defense, but there’s a reason we don’t give up many goals, and that’s because they’re good.”
Prior to this season, Sifferlen was the epitome of raw. Called upon to defend the net for the first time in his career along with Noah Hughes this season after the graduation of Eli Diehr, Sifferlen relied on instinct to win.
In 332 minutes, the converted defender’s knack led to a mere allowed two goals this year. Against the Marauders, which averaged. 3.8 goals per match behind a trio of double-digit goal scorers, Sifferlen flinched just once.
“My teammates and coaches have all the faith in the world in me and I have all the faith in the world in them,” Sifferlen said. “They knew I didn’t want to lose. They knew if they threw me in, I would give them all I got.”
Sifferlen recorded nine saves, including in the shootout. He lost his beat on the ball against a penalty kick by Mt. Vernon’s Carson Jones with 10:15 left in regulation.
Awarded the shot on a foul near the box, Jones drilled the goal past a diving Sifferlen to deadlock the match 1-all. Mt. Vernon trailed for nearly 55 minutes prior, but not from a lack of trying.
The Marauders peppered the net with seven shots on goal, including five in the final 54 minutes. They finished with 13 shots.
“We just kept plugging and fighting until we got that equalizer. I felt like we had a little bit more run of play in the second half, that maybe we could get another one in before overtime, but it just didn’t happen,” Mt. Vernon head coach Matt Mayhew said. “It’s nobody’s fault. The cards just weren’t there.”
The Cougars showed their hand early, taking a 1-0 lead in the match’s 15th minute on a goal by freshman Zack Bell. Greenfield-Central piled on four shots on goal in the first half and worked several set pieces off of four early corner kicks before Bell found a crease.
“My goal happened because of a beautiful ball from (Braiden) Sticka, right to me,” Bell said. “I didn’t have to do much. My team set me up perfectly. After that we felt good about it.”
Sifferlen’s rhythm reached its peak as the match’s intensity picked up. The goalkeeper thwarted a near header goal by Drew Heitman with 2:10 left in the first half. With the game knotted up in overtime, Sifferlen zeroed in on a pair of shots from Jeffrey Boxberger to send the match into a shootout.
“Mt. Vernon is so good and we knew coming into it, they were going to come after us,” McConnell said. “We felt like we had a good game plan for them. We felt like we knew how they were going to play. Even with that, they’re just so good.”
Winning the HHC with a 7-0 record, Mt. Vernon kept Greenfield-Central off the board with nine saves from goalkeeper Josh Powell until the end when the Cougars’ past came full circle.
“Two PK games in a row,” Tuttle said. “That’s crazy. This is just amazing.”
Greenfield-Central 2, Mt. Vernon 1 (3-0 shootout)
MV: Carson Jones, goal; Josh Powell, 9 saves
GC: Zack Bell, goal; Clayton Kelley, goal; Trenton Pierce, goal; Luke Tuttle, goal; Jack Sifferlen, 9 saves