SHELBYVILLE — Mt. Vernon is headed back to the sectional finals.
The Marauders edged defending champ Greenfield-Central 2-0 Wednesday in the Sectional 23 semifinals at Shelbyville. MV (10-6-2) will play New Palestine (10-6-1) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the championship.
The Dragons’ Alex Thomas scored in the first half to give New Palestine a 1-0 win over Shelbyville (4-8-1) in the second semifinal.
Mt. Vernon will try to recapture the sectional title they last held in 2010.
For the Marauders Wednesday, Mouhamed Konate, Hancock County’s leading goal scorer, struck early in the first half to hand the Marauders the advantage. Konate received a feed from Josiah Noska and sent a strike toward the left corner of the net. G-C keeper Jared Potter got his right hand on the ball, but couldn’t keep it from going into the net, and Mt. Vernon went ahead with 35 minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the half.
The score was Konate’s 21st on the season, with Noska notching his fourth assist. Play leveled out for the rest of the half, with each squad recording three shots on goal.
Last week in Fortville, MV bested G-C 3-1 (OT) in a game resumed from earlier in the season.
“We were very aggressive and then we did what I didn’t want us to do and that was kind of back off and relax,” MV coach Aaron Britt said. “Playing somebody on that quick of turnaround, sometimes it’s difficult.”
The Marauders hit paydirt again at almost the same time in the second half. Aaron Gilpin sent a cross into the Cougar goalie box and CJ Coleman headed it in for his ninth goal of 2012 with 35 minutes and 15 seconds left in the second half.
Playing with a lead only strengthened the resolve of the black-and-gold defense, which surrendered just five shots on goal. Keeper Corban Hartley played assertively, using his tall frame to cut off both airborne crosses and through balls at the top of the goalie box. Hartley finished with five saves.
“(Corban) plays the position pretty well,” Britt offered. “We’ve been working with him on being more aggressive in those instances.”
G-C struggled to find consistent ball movement all night, and will finish the year with an 8-7 record 12 months after winning the sectional crown.
“We had two really good days of practice, and I don’t know if we came in a little overconfident or a little too relaxed, but we had a hard time getting going,” G-C coach Jared Manning said. “We had a few sequences where we strung things together in the second half and some late, but we just weren’t in it tonight.”
Manning credited the Marauders’ speed for keeping the Cougars out of their comfort zone.
“They’re a lot faster than people give them credit for. Coach Britt really coaches them to press effectively, which is something some high school teams struggle with. That team is pretty good at it,” Manning explained. “They challenged us, took us out of our rhythm and forced us to try to play the ball over the top, which is not our strong suit.”
Even though his team fell short after winning the sectional title in 2011, Manning sang the praises of his self-sacrificing group — especially his defense — which had to replace four starting defenders and a net minder from last year’s team.
“I couldn’t be more proud of those guys because we lost so much in the back,” Manning offered.
“And having guys step up and selflessly move themselves back there and know that that was the right move for them and our team.”
The Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Marauders plan to revert back to their normal method of play for Saturday’s sectional final.
“I thought that we could use our athleticism in this game to push them forward and play in more space, because we don’t normally do that either,” said Britt, whose team got starters Cole Justus and Kyle Pruitt back in the fold against G-C.
“It was effective tonight. We can settle in for the second game and play more of our style.”
Look for a recap of the New Palestine-Shelbyville semifinal online today or in Friday’s Daily Reporter.