FORTVILLE — There were plenty of unknowns heading into Thursday night for the Greenfield-Central Cougars and even fewer answers — until the end.
Down 3-0 against Class 3A No. 12 East Central with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the Sectional 12 semifinals, the Cougars made their final stand, scoring a pair of goals in five minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
Unbeaten East Central (15-0-2) hung on to win 3-2 against a short-handed Cougars squad, which played down a player for the last 14:50 following a red card, to advance into Saturday’s championship.
The Trojans will play Mt. Vernon for the title at 7 p.m. after the host Marauders defeated Franklin Central 5-1 to open the night’s sectional semifinal doubleheader.
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East Central, who captured the outright Eastern Indiana Conference championship this season, led 1-0 in the first half and added two more goals before the Cougars could respond.
“It’s hard. Usually when we play sectional, we know our opponent. We’ve played our opponent before, so we know what to expect. So playing a team we never played was different,” Greenfield-Central head coach Erin Clark said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”
A year ago, the Cougars won their fourth sectional title in program history and first since 2012. The Trojans halted their hopes of a repeat, beginning with a lined shot by Lizzy Kern that sailed over the outreached hands of Cougars’ keeper Kayla Enochs with 1:01 left before the intermission.
The Trojans controlled the midfield and collapsed their defense near the box to hold the Cougars without a shot on goal until late in the second half.
East Central had three shots on goal in the first half and racked up eight in the second, which led to a 3-0 advantage.
Brooke Puterbaugh tapped in the Trojans’ second goal in the match’s 46th minute as the team encircled the box and swung the ball around to find an opening.
“They’re a good team. They pass the ball around. They possess. They’re fundamentally sound players all around,” Clark said. “They didn’t have a weakness anywhere around their team.”
After a red card was issued to Cougars’ Trystan Ailes at the 14:50 mark in the second half for dissent towards an official, following an initial yellow card, the Trojans tacked on their third goal five minutes later.
A putback goal by Taylor Whitehead pushed the margin to 3-0 as the Cougars battled with 10 players on the field.
“I don’t understand the call, but yes, down a player. Apparently, that’s what we needed to get some fire lit under us,” Clark said. “Once we went down a player we actually started to pick up the intensity quite a bit and play quite a bit harder.”
The Cougars (14-3), who had won 10 straight matches prior to their first postseason match, charged back with 8:07 left on the clock.
Macy Huber scored her second goal of the season off a putback shot as she cleaned up a near goal by Kennedy Trap.
A Lucy Brand goal, her ninth this year, on a free kick from 40 yards out cut the deficit to 3-2 with 2:52 remaining.
The Trojans, however, played to their possession strengths the final few minutes to move on.
“We had such a great season,” Clark said. “To lose in the first round of sectional is no fun, but they’re a good team. The girls played hard, but they are a very good team.”
East Central 3, Greenfield-Central 2
Goals: Lucy Brand, Macy Huber (GC); Lizzy Kern, Brooke Puterbaugh, Taylor Whitehead (EC). Saves: Kayla Enochs 6 (GC); Jessica Shipman 1 (EC).