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Peristence pays off: MV edges NP in sectional final

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SHELBYVILLE — As his team’s frustrations mounted from not being able to find the back of the net, Mt. Vernon soccer coach Aaron Britt implored his players to keep sending the ball in to the New Palestine defensive zone, to keep executing their runs. He assured them it would eventually pay off with a score.

With one minute and 16 seconds remaining in the second overtime period, Britt’s words finally found merit.

Off a lofted ball from Matt Powell, Mouhamed Konate headed the ball past the outstretched arms of NP goal keeper Jaron Pridgen for the game’s only score, handing the Marauders a 1-0 victory in the sectional final Saturday against their Hancock County rivals.

MV (11-6-2) will play Southport (12-7) in the second regional semifinal Thursday at 7:15 p.m. in Fortville. 2A No. 4 Center Grove (15-2-1) and Warren Central (6-6-4) will play in the first semifinal match at 5:30 p.m.

Mt. Vernon advanced Wednesday with a 2-0 win over defending sectional champion Greenfield-Central, while New Palestine moved on by edging Shelbyville 1-0.

The sectional crown is the first since 2010 for the Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Marauders, who have prevailed in 10 of their past 16 sectional tournaments. The victory also quantified a measure of redemption for the team members who were involved the 1-0 defeat to New Palestine in last season’s sectional semifinal.

“My speech before the game to them was, ‘Tonight is about something, it’s not about someone. It’s not about who. It doesn’t matter who we play,’” said Britt, the fourth-year MV coach who earned his first win in seven tries against NP. “The thing that we wanted is the thing that everybody is taking their picture with. We knew that if we played the way we needed to play, we could accomplish that.”

Mt. Vernon consistently applied pressure to the Dragon defense all night, registering 14 shots on goal, 10 more than its opponents.

The match featured even play in the first half, but as the second 40 minutes wore on, the black-and-gold amped up its offensive pressure. And NP’s shorthanded resistance — multiple starters were out because of injury — started to show more cracks as the Marauders conducted run after run at the goalmouth.

Konate was stonewalled twice in the final stanza, once by his own volition as his shot veered awry of the net at the 33-minute mark and once by Pridgen, who poked away a Konate header with 13 minutes remaining for one of his 12 saves.

“My coaches just told me to keep my head up,” Konate said. “Everybody just told me to keep my head up and I’ll get a goal.”

MV threw its kitchen sink at NP in the second half and the two seven-minute overtimes, sending a mixture of well-placed corner kicks, volleys, long strikes, set pieces, through balls and headers at goal, only to be turned away by the steadfast Dragon back wall and Pridgen, a tandem that had combined for seven clean sheets this year.

“They did so well. The defense did great. They worked so hard to withstand so many opportunities and to shut them down so many times. Our defense has been our backbone, they’ve been everything to us,” offered NP coach Bobby Holden, whose team triumphed in four 1-0 matches before Saturday night. “1-0 wins is what we’re known for, and unfortunately that comes with a 0-1 loss, I guess.”

And just when it looked like New Palestine might escape to the penalty kick round, Mt. Vernon finally broke through.

Matt Powell turned his right foot into a sand wedge and lobbed the ball into the goalie box. With Pridgen closing in, Konate used his head to boost the ball just over the NP net minder’s fingertips and into the net for his Hancock County-leading 22nd goal of the season. The junior forward let out a scream of joy and sprinted past the MV faithful and into the arms of his teammates.

“Our coaches just kept saying, ‘Send the ball in, send the ball in,’” explained Konate, previously scoreless against the Dragons. “Nobody was in the box. I saw that run-through and just made it.”

A joyous Britt admitted afterwards he was a bit relieved that his faith in his team’s eventual breakthrough didn’t turn out to be of the blind variety.

“I told them if they went the whole 80 minutes and if they hung in the game and had to go 14 more, if they just continued making the runs and doing the things that they needed to do, that it was going to happen,” offered Britt, a 1998 MV graduate. “It wasn’t going to come down to a crapshoot shootout, it was going to happen.

“Fortunately for me, it worked out.”

Following a lackluster effort in a 1-0 setback to New Palestine on Aug. 28, two days later Mt. Vernon dropped a 2-1 decision to Columbus East that forced Britt to arrange a conference with his underperforming disciples.

“We had a, ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting at the end of that week because, not just the New Pal game, but we put a game right behind that where it was just awful. We had a talk at that time,” revealed Britt, an assistant on the 2005 MV squad that captured the program’s last regional championship. “In order of magnitude, it has been improving, the effort, the intensity…every time we stepped on the field. Yes, I was happy with that.

“I was happy with…when you have that many opportunities and you’re right there all the time and you’re cramming the ball down their throat and you’re not putting it in, some teams would get frustrated, some teams would quit or slow down and run the risk of not being there the one time it was there. And tonight we kept fighting.”

New Palestine finished with a record of 10-7-1, and had to complete its season without many of its regulars, including senior midfielder Bryson Basaran, the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals. Regulars Ben Richter, Ryan Perkins and Alex Melangton were also out with various ailments.

“Getting to the sectional final with the players we had, it couldn’t say more about our underclassmen. To have those players on the sideline, to have Bryson and Ben and Ryan and Alex and all the players that can’t play,” NP coach Bobby Holden explained. “They just have to sit and watch and cheer on their team. It’s hard. It’s real hard.”

The Marauder defense limited the Dragons to a quartet of shots on net, and keyed on forward Alex Thomas, NP’s biggest offensive threat (five goals) with Basaran out.

“We knew that Bryson was out so that we had to stop Alex, which we did,” MV defender Rhyan Woods said. “They only got four shots on the goal. We pretty much locked him down the whole game and they got shut down. We did good defensively.”

The defeat was especially crushing to Holden — also the coach of the school’s girls’ soccer team — as the New Palestine girls fell to Greenfield-Central 2-0 in the sectional final earlier Saturday evening, snapping the program’s streak of consecutive sectional titles at six.

“I don’t have a response to that right now. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when that happens,” he said. “I can lose games…to be this situation and lose two in a matter of hours, it’s unreal.

“It’s something that I’ll go to bed tonight and I’ll wake up wondering if that really happened.”

Before turning its attention to Southport, Mt. Vernon was content to celebrate Saturday evening.

“It feels good. Winning sectional and especially beating New Pal, our rivals,” Woods offered. “Getting revenge back from last year. It was a good game.”

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