Still in the Hunt: Cougars shut out Dragons to stay in HHC race

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NEW PALESTINE — The wins aren’t what they were a season ago, but the Greenfield-Central Cougars are exactly where they want to be with only three Hoosier Heritage Conference games remaining on the schedule.

At 3-5-1 overall this season, the defending HHC champion Cougars seemingly win when it counts, and they maintained that trend Thursday night with a 2-0 shutout against rival New Palestine.

A pair of Jackson Findley goals helped secure a key victory over the Dragons and pushed the Cougars’ HHC record to 3-1 with three of their next final four regular-season games against league opponents.

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Class 2A No. 12 Yorktown was 5-1 in the HHC entering Thursday, and Shelbyville (4-1 in the HHC) is right behind the Tigers atop the standings.

The Cougars face Shelbyville at home on Monday and Yorktown on the road Wednesday.

First, however, they had to take care of New Palestine (2-8, 1-4 HHC), regardless.

“Any HHC is a rivalry game every game, and if we don’t bring heart and passion to the match, it leaves it a little too thin,” Greenfield-Central coach Matt McConnell said. “It’s good to still be in the hunt and have a shot at it, but it’s going to be a battle the rest of the way out, that’s for sure.”

The Cougars honed their attack against the Dragons, racking up 30 shots and 15 on goal with a goal scored in each half.

Findley broke the scoreless tie in the 25th minute, collecting a pass from Logan Masters to slip the ball past Dragons’ sophomore goalkeeper Blake Bobrow.

“It was a ball by Logan into the box. It kind of got up in the air, and I just got a hold of it,” Findley said. “It was great team play building up to it, and we got the result.”

The Cougars fired 20 shots in the first half and posted 10 shots on goal, but they relied on their meticulous nature to net a 1-0 advantage.

“When the back line sits back so far, sometimes you just have to be patient and get the right result. You don’t want speed things up. You just want to be patient and get the shot that you want,” Findley said. “We took some time on the ball today, just to possess and get the best shot off we could.”

Greenfield-Central goalkeeper Ben Polster suffocated New Palestine’s best efforts and recorded four saves overall with one in the first half.

The Dragons had four shots overall with multiple opportunities in the second half as the game hung in the balance.

Ethan Windham had two hard shots on goal in the second half, but Polster, who now has two shutout wins to his credit this season — both in HHC play — stood strong.

“Ben has stepped up, and he’s been awesome for us this year. Not being our top keeper these last three years and the way he’s stepped into his role; he’s just played great for us. I’m so proud of him,” Findley said.

The Cougars’ starting goalkeeper from last year’s 19-2 team, Abe Buescher, has been sidelined this season, but he is nearing a potential return.

Polster had a 2-0 shutout victory against HHC foe Pendleton Heights on Sept. 1 and was one of the heroes last week Thursday when Greenfield-Central defeated Mt. Vernon in a sudden-death penalty-kick shootout.

The Cougars lone HHC setback this fall has been against Delta, 3-1, on Sept. 8. The Eagles are third in the standings at 4-2 in the HHC.

“They’re just bigger games,” Findley remarked on the magnitude surrounding league games. “We always tend to get better towards the end of the year, and conference games are really where we have to put the pedal to the metal and win.”

Findley provided the Cougars’ insurance goal in the 78th minute off a penalty kick following a Dragons handball foul in the box.

“The PK at the end was unfortunate, but I loved it because the kid was trying to make a play. Unfortunate bounce of the ball, but at least he made a play and didn’t just watch,” New Palestine head coach Brett Canova said.

“We’re awfully young and small. Get beat up and bounced around a little bit, but that’s OK. They just keep battling. We’re growing, developing and learning.”

The Cougars are finding ways to win despite the odds continuously being stacked against them. Greenfield-Central’s win against the Dragons handed their rivals only their second loss in their past four games.

Greenfield-Central has now won three of its last four.

“It would be nice to win conference again. We just need to take care of business on Monday and keep going forward,” Findley said. “Shelbyville and Yorktown are going to be tough games, close games. They’ve been playing great this season, and it’s going to be tight, but we’re going to come ready to play and knock them off.”