CARMEL — No fear. For 80 minutes Saturday night, the Class 3A Greenfield-Central boys soccer team showed zero hesitation, and their grittiness nearly pushed No. 4 North Central to the brink.
Ahead 1-0 against North Central early during the Carmel Regional championship match, the Cougars led for 20 minutes before the Panthers roared back and later fended off a late rally to win 3-2.
“Our boys came to play today,” Greenfield-Central head coach Bobby Holden said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for coming out the way they did, fighting back the way they did. They didn’t stop believing the whole way. This team is a family. They played so well together.”
In the regional finals for the first time since losing to Center Grove 1-0 in 2011, Greenfield-Central defeated Cathedral 2-1 in the regional semifinal Saturday afternoon at Brian Murray Memorial Stadium to advance.
The Cougars (14-6-1) captured their sixth sectional championship of all time prior to regional and first back-to-back title run in program history.
Against North Central, the Cougars wanted more, and a goal in the match’s fifth minute by senior Clayton Kelley revealed their intentions.
Kelley played the ball off a perfectly lined cross pass from Pablo Aguinaga and headed in the first goal, shocking the defending regional champion Panthers momentarily.
“It made us know we were here for a reason. That we were here because we deserved to be here,” Holden remarked on his Cougars’ early advantage. “Not many people at the beginning of the season would put us up against North Central. They didn’t think we would put a goal on them early.”
North Central head coach Jerry Little expected nothing less, working with Greenfield-Central sophomores Tyler Murphy, Caleb Mundell and Zack Bell through Millennium Indy, a local soccer club association.
“It’s a club that I run, so I knew they were very good players. I knew they wanted to beat us,” Little said. “I expected it to be a very difficult game. And it was.”
It was just as trying for the Cougars, on tired legs from the regional’s grueling doubleheader setup, to match North Central’s speed, but Greenfield-Central’s defense and goalkeeper Abraham Buescher stood strong against 24 shots.
Panthers seniors Alex Smith and Levi King, along with junior Kirezi Freddy, picked up the pace and eventually broke through with one goal in the first half and two more in the second.
Joseph Kaefer tied the match with 17:18 left in the half, cleaning up a swat save off an initial flurry of shots beginning with a free kick by Smith.
Freddy had the go-ahead goal off a ricocheted save in the second half with 34:43 remaining. His second goal sailed into the net with 27:09 to put North Central up 3-1.
“North Central has a lot of talent. They are a good, good team,” Holden said. “Taking care of their boys on the field is no easy task. Going to three back early in the second half to get those goals back, I’m proud of my defense for the way they handled their top three guys.”
The Cougars just missed on two near goals in each half. The first came off of Braiden Sticka’s foot as the ball hit the post and bounced out with 25:20 in the opening half and Greenfield-Central up 1-0.
The other shot came from Bell with 37:15 left in the second half, rattling off the post and looping out, somehow finding its way back into the box.
“Every guy here gave their all. No matter what the score is, I think this is the best game we’ve played all year,” Kelley said.
Greenfield-Central’s second goal dropped in as Kelley connected with Trevor Sawyer with 17:32 remaining. The Cougars finished with six shots on goal and 11 shots total, including four in the final eight minutes, but North Central held on.
“As much it hurts to lose regional, I’m excited to see these guys next year,” Kelley said. “I hope next year they can keep it going and get the first sectional three-peat in school history. I hope they can come back and beat this team.”
Greenfield-Central 2, Cathedral 1
Goals: Pablo Aguinaga 2 (GC); Trey Kapsalis 1 (EH). Assists: Braiden Sticka 1 (GC).
North Central 3, Greenfield-Central 2
Goals: Trevor Sawyer 1, Clay Kelley 1 (GC); Joseph Kaefer 1, Kirezi Freddy 2 (NC).