GREENFIELD — After a grueling 94 minutes of regulation and overtime, the Greenfield-Central Cougars were right where they wanted to be Wednesday night.
Tied with Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Pendleton Heights 1-1, the match ultimately came down to a penalty-kick shootout, followed by sudden death, and the Cougars were on the brink of victory each time.
A heads-up goal by Greenfield-Central freshman Schyler Slunaker with 6.8 seconds left in regulation forced overtime, and a pair of penalty kick goals by Riley Sexton and goalkeeper Kayla Enochs kept it tied 2-2 in the initial shootout.
In sudden death, however, the visiting Arabians finally broke through as junior Claire Fendel book-ended the match with a goal into the back left corner of the net past Enochs for a 2-1 (3-2 shootout) win.
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“Honestly, we were trying to hold off until PKs because I think we had a better chance to win with PKs than winning in the last 14 minutes of overtime because we were all so physically tired after the last 10 seconds of regulation,” Greenfield-Central junior Lucy Brand said.
The last 18.3 seconds of the first 80 minutes proved the most productive for the Cougars as opportunity eluded them prior, especially in the first half.
The Arabians scored first as Taylor Fort fed Fendel for her fifth goal of the season in the match’s sixth minute.
Pendleton Heights racked up seven shots on goal in the first half and another five in the second half, but Enochs stonewalled them with 10 saves and another two in overtime.
The Cougars were held without a shot on goal in the first half and had four in the second, including Slunaker’s heroics.
“Before the goal we were pretty down. We weren’t playing very well the last 20 minutes. After halftime we adjusted our formation because they were going down the center the entire game. We plugged it with four midfielders and played one forward,” Greenfield-Central head coach Erin Clark said. “That made a huge difference in the second half.”
Instinct was the primary factor following a foul call on Pendleton Heights with 18.3 seconds left near their own box. Brand booted a perfectly lined free kick, which Arabians keeper Shayla Meinders slapped and pushed away.
The Cougars attacked the ricochet, shooting twice as Slunaker converted on the second with 6.8 seconds remaining.
“It was a full team effort. I honestly couldn’t tell you who scored because everyone was in there. It was crazy,” Brand said. “It was awesome how we all came together in the last few seconds to get it.”
“The last 18 seconds. And from a freshman, too. That was awesome,” Clark added.
The shootout was a microcosm of the entire night for the Cougars. Sexton opened with a 1-0 lead after converting her penalty kick. The next two for the Cougars drew crossbar before Enochs lined in the team’s fifth attempt.
Earlier in regulation, the Cougars had back-to-back open net header attempts sail wide or just miss by a fraction of a inch. A few one-time connections fell through behind seven corner kicks and set pieces.
“We just couldn’t seem to get enough shots on goal to put anything in until that free kick,” Clark said. “We had everybody in the box, they crashed the goal. That was just effort, get on the ball and get it in the goal. We actually worked on that yesterday. What do you do on a free kick? Crash the goal.”
Enochs did her part, recording 12 saves through 94 minutes and diving to stop a liner by Fort in the shootout as the teams were locked 1-1 on penalty kicks.
Her only mistake came seconds after she put the Cougars ahead 2-1 in the shootout. A slow rolling kick by Macy Browning slipped past Enochs between her legs.
After the Cougars missed their first sudden death penalty kick, Fendel ended what she started.
“(Kayla) had a great game. That ball over her head on the first goal in regulation, that is what it is. But she had some fantastic saves throughout the game. She had a great save in the shootout. She made a PK,” Clark said. “Then, you know, it just didn’t go our way today. We missed four PKs.”
The loss drops Greenfield-Central to 4-2 on the season and 1-2 in the HHC. Pendleton Heights improved to 5-2 and 1-0 in the HHC. The Cougars started the season with a similar conference record after losses to Mt. Vernon and Pendleton Heights. They ended up winning sectional and reaching the regional finals.
“It’s a tough loss, but at the same time I think we can come back from it,” said Brand, an Xavier recruit. “Like Clark said, we were here in this same position last year and we almost made semistate. I don’t think this changes anything in the future.”
Pendleton Heights 2, Greenfield-Central 1
PH (5-2, 1-0 HHC);1;0;0;0;(2);(1);—;2
GC (4-2, 1-2 HHC);0;1;0;0;(2);(0);—;1
Goals: C. Fendel (PH); S. Slunaker (GC).
Assist: T. Fort (PH)
Saves: K. Enochs 12 (GC); S. Meinders 3.
Shootout Goals: PH – H. Talbot, M. Browning, C. Fendel; GC – R. Sexton, K. Enochs.