SHELBYVILLE — Before its sectional semifinal tilt, members of the injury-riddled New Palestine boys’ soccer team did some ‘blonding’ by dying each player’s hair as yellow as a Hancock County cornfield.
And with the defensive performance the Dragons (10-6-1) put forth in their 1-0 shutout victory over the host Golden Bears (4-8-1) Wednesday, perhaps the NP faithful should refer to its revamped defense as the ‘Blonde Blockade.’
New Palestine advances to take on county foe Mt. Vernon in the sectional final at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Shelbyville.
MV (10-6-2) moved on by defeating defending sectional champion Greenfield-Central (8-7) 2-0 in the first semifinal Wednesday.
Injuries had forced NP coach Bobby Holden to re-shuffle his lineup entering the postseason.
Starting midfielder Bryson Basaran — the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals — was lost for the year in the team’s regular-season finale against Pendleton Heights with a torn ACL in his left knee. Ryan Perkins, a first-string forward, is also out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Starting midfielder Ben Richter (broken collarbone) and fill-in starter Alex Melangton (concussion) — also a midfielder — were unable to suit up against Shelbyville but could play against Mt. Vernon.
Holden chuckled at the suggestion that his squad was a bit undermanned Wednesday night.
“A little shorthanded? That’s an understatement,” the second-year coach said with a laugh. “We have boys stepping up in different positions and playing amazing defense.”
With a back-and-forth first half winding down, New Palestine cracked the scoreboard with less than six minutes left.
After a foul gave NP its third free kick of the night, Caleb Kramer lofted a cross to the opposite goal post in the Shelbyville box. Alex Thomas used his to head to re-direct the ball past the Golden Bear goal keeper and into the goal.
Holden believed his team took too long to set up its first pair of free kicks, so he instructed them to “quick-kick” the next one, and the result was golden.
“It went quick, and it honestly wasn’t the ball that I saw. I saw a different ball,” admitted Holden, whose program last won a sectional crown in 2009. “But Kramer, he’s a great midfielder. He had the vision and Thomas won it.”
The Dragons have thrived in one-goal contests all season long, and now sport a record of 6-1-1 in such games. They’ve played in four 1-0 tilts, prevailing in each one.
Once Thomas’ goal went through, it became increasingly difficult for Shelbyville to mount threatening chances against the unyielding NP resistance.
And despite a few near-misses, the red-and-white defense stood tall for its seventh shutout victory of 2012.
However, the celebration was brief for the Dragons, who are well aware of the challenge that awaits them Saturday against the Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Marauders.
“I’m looking forward to playing them. They’re a really good team, (but) we have a really good idea of them,” said Holden, whose squad bested Mt. Vernon 1-0 on Aug. 28. “They’ve played two different formations that we’ve seen. We’ll see what they come out in.”
New Palestine was on the sidelines for MV’s victory Wednesday in which the game’s deciding goal came from Mouhamed Konate, the owner of a county-best 21 goals. The Marauders are averaging over two and a half scores per game.
“Hopefully we can contain Moko (Konate) and a couple other players around him,” Holden offered. “(Konate’s) not the only player they have, but he’s a really good player.”