FORTVILLE — In a game that resembled basketball on grass instead of a typical, low-scoring postseason soccer affair, Mt. Vernon slipped by Southport 3-2 in its regional semifinal match Thursday night in Fortville.
The contest featured up-and-down action for all 80 minutes, with smaller Southport using its skill to emphasize one-on-one matchups and backdoor cuts, while MV used its size and employed the long ball. The Marauders outshot the Cardinals 15-12 on the night, including 10-5 in the second 40 minutes.
“We figured defensively and athletically, since they’re kind of quick, we could do a good job of containing. I told my guys we could score goals and we did,” said fourth-year Mt. Vernon coach Aaron Britt. “We were trying to be aware and more cognizant on the defensive side because of their style. They move together well, so contain the best you can and make sure you follow their runners.”
The Marauders, who lost in penalty kicks in their last regional championship game appearance to Roncalli in 2010, moved one step closer to their first regional title since 2005.
Mt. Vernon (12-6-2) will take on No. 4 Center Grove (16-2-1) in the regional final Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The Trojans defeated Warren Central (6-7-4) 5-0 in the first semifinal Thursday. The regional victor will advance to the Evansville Harrison semistate on Oct. 20 and take on the winner of Evansville North (8-9-2) and No. 3 Evansville Memorial (18-3).
With the score level at two and under 29 minutes to play in regulation, Josiah Noska used his head to redirect a Kyle Cansler free kick past Southport goal keeper Caleb Bernhard and hand MV the lead for good. The free kick was awarded to the Marauders when Cansler was fouled near the left sideline, and the score was Noska’s third of the season.
Five minutes earlier, Southport’s Van Lian fed Van sui Lian on a one-touch goal to supply the Cardinals with a 2-1 advantage. However, Southport’s first lead of the game was brief as MV’s Mouhamed Konate hit paydirt four minutes later, gathering a pass from CJ Coleman and firing the ball into the right corner of the net to even the match at two goals apiece.
Konate’s goal, his 24th of the season and second on the night, gave him the single-season school scoring record. Eric Myers previously set the mark in 2005.
“It came to me, I looked up and saw Mo running,” said Coleman, who picked up his Hancock County-leading 12th assist on the play. “I just kicked it where I needed to and he finished it.”
Konate got MV on the board first with a goal at the 16:31 mark of the first half. After Mt. Vernon net minder Corban Hartley boomed a kick downfield, Drew Kiser got the ball ahead to Konate. The junior forward then volleyed the ball to himself three times, split a pair of Southport defenders and buried the ball in the left corner of the net.
“It was a great individual effort, collecting the ball out of the air. The ball never hit the ground until right before he hit it,” Britt said of Konate, who now has registered 48 goals in his career. “It’s stuff he’s capable of doing.”
Almost five minutes after Konate’s breakthrough, Southport answered. Cardinal midfielder Efrain Tovar dribbled the ball into the short right corner of the Mt. Vernon goalie box. Tovar fired a shot off the left post that ricocheted right back to the senior, who put the ball into the goal.
The score was the first allowed by MV in the state tournament after 126 minutes of shutout ball, as they defeated Greenfield-Central 2-0 and New Palestine 1-0 (OT) in sectional play.
The Marauders endured two close calls late in the second stanza. In the 69th minute, the ball was kicked around the MV goalie box following a Southport corner kick. The ball ended up in the net, but officials whistled play dead before the goal and stuck the Cardinals with their only yellow card of the match for overly physical play.
With just under six minutes remaining, Lian Kham’s shot went careening off the MV crossbar. Hartley, who notched six saves, cleared the rebound for a black-and-gold defense that saw its own team quickness matched by Southport.
“It was a lot different than what we’ve played in the past,” Coleman offered. “We just locked down, played good ‘D’ and came out with the win.”
Mt. Vernon’s opponent Saturday night, Center Grove, is in pursuit of its second-straight regional title after it edged Greenfield-Central 1-0 in last season’s final. With a win, the Trojans would capture their 11th regional crown, second-most in state history.
Center Grove methodically picked apart the Warriors in the first semifinal, scoring twice in the opening three minutes of play and then added a trio of second-half goals. The Trojans, who have triumphed in 13 of their past 14 contests, employ a possession-based system that allows for their versatile offense — six players have at least five goals — to attack opponents from multiple angles.
“I think we’ll matchup pretty well. (Against Warren Central) they didn’t get a lot of pressure,” Britt noted. “We’re going to apply a lot of pressure, try to get some quick change of possession and get forward, which is what we do.”