GREENFIELD — There was an unexpected moment of trepidation Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t last long.
Down 1-0 early to rival Shelbyville in the Class 3A Sectional 12 finals the Greenfield-Central Cougars turned to each other and as their team motto states on the back of their warm-up shirts — they stood together as a “family.”
The Cougars’ band of brothers rallied in unison through the final 68 minutes, scoring four unanswered goals en route to a 4-1 victory to capture the program’s first sectional championship repeat.
“Shelbyville had a really good defensive strategy. They made us become really patient in our attack and our boys responded well,” Greenfield-Central head coach Bobby Holden said. “They have adjusted so well all season. This family is something else.”
The Shelbyville Golden Bears, who lost to Greenfield-Central 4-0 during the regular season, struck first at the 28:49 mark in the first half for a short-lived 1-0 lead.
Trae Hassebroek connected with Tyce Taylor for the “surprising” go-ahead goal, which fired up the Cougars’ offensive attack.
Immediately after the Golden Bears scored, the Cougars applied the pressure, lacing six shots and four shots on goal in the next seven minutes.
“It kind of woke us up a little bit and we started getting our rhythm going,” Greenfield-Central senior defensive back Sean Julian said. “We started rolling.”
The Cougars first goal unfolded on a perfectly placed pass for a one-time goal by sophomore Tyler Murphy, who played a cross by Pablo Aguinaga with 20:30 left in the first half.
“It kind of shocked us because during the season we beat them 4-0, and we weren’t thinking they would score on us first. We thought we were going to blow them out,” Murphy said. “We had to fight really hard after that 1-0 to get them back.”
The Cougars defense shut down the midfield and turned their disruption into instant offense with 21 shots on goal overall against Shelbyville goalkeeper Nick Amos.
A long-range goal by Zack Bell with 7:41 left in the opening half broke the match’s 1-1 tie and foreshadowed the inevitable as Greenfield-Central peppered the net with nine shots on goal in the final 40 minutes.
The consistent onslaught was highlighted in the second half as a free kick by Julian sailed into the box and fell through for an own goal, putting Greenfield-Central ahead 3-1 with 21:01 remaining.
Braiden Sticka added the final goal off an assist by Jordan Phillips with 49.2 seconds left. The goal was Sticka’s team-leading 15th this season. Bell is second on the squad with 14 and Murphy now owns 14 goals through 17 matches for the co-Hoosier Heritage Conference champions.
“I think after that third goal, the own goal, it was a breaking point for them,” Murphy said. “That’s what we looked to do.”
Showing their 2016 sectional championship wasn’t a fluke proved to be another motivator for the team, which stands 13-5-1 on the season as it heads to the Carmel Regional on Saturday to face Cathedral (13-6-2) at noon.
The Cougars drew arguably the toughest road to the program’s sixth sectional championship all time and and fourth in seven years.
They avenged their 3-0 regular-season loss to HHC co-champion Mt. Vernon in the sectional opener with a 2-0 victory. In the sectional semifinals, they won a back-and-forth battle with East Central 4-3, less than 24 hours after the beating the Marauders.
On Saturday, they beat the Golden Bears for the second time this season. The Cougars built their postseason focus by winning four of their last five regular-season matches, including four HHC matchups to clinch a share of the league title with a 6-1 record.
“We had our ups and downs during the season, and when you finally hit your stride and it’s at that point in the season, you’re just really excited,” Holden said. “The co-conference championship helped us in gaining momentum. The draw was very exciting to get the route that we did. They weren’t scared. They took the challenge and stepped up to it.”
The result was a full circle moment for Holden, who as a co-captain at Greenfield-Central as a player, was a sectional runner-up in 2002 and won the title in 2003. The first-year head coach was an assistant in 2016 before switching roles with Matt McConnell this season.
Four of the program’s past five sectional championship coaches, including athletics director Jared Manning, gathered during the team’s postgame celebration with the team’s newest hardware on hand along with the trophies from the past.
“I remember playing here and how it had been eight years since we won a sectional (in 1995). My junior year we lost in the sectional championship and then winning it my senior year, knowing I only provided one. For these boys to provide two to their community is just fantastic,” Holden said. “It means a lot and shows the growth of soccer in this community, and it shows how well these boys have developed over the years.”
Their bond continues to strength along with their confidence with regional ahead.
“It means everything to us. We worked so hard for this and from Day 1, we wanted another one, especially hosting it,” Julian said. “We dug deep and had the mindset that we weren’t going to lose. We wanted that back-to-back, make history here at Greenfield.”
Greenfield-Central 4, Shelbyville 1
Goals: Braiden Sticka, Tyler Murphy, Zack Bell, Sean Julian (GC); Tyce Taylor (S). Assists: Pablo Aguinaga, Jordan Phillips, Cole Pierce (GC); Trae Hassebroek (S).