GREENWOOD — Though his team was undermanned and outshot throughout its Class 3A semifinal match at Center Grove, Columbus North girls soccer coach David Young was confident that if his team could just find a way to extend the game and force a shootout, it was going to win.
He wasn’t wrong.
Missing injured stars Jenna Lang and Nitya Chenanda, the No. 7 Bull Dogs overcame a 15-3 disadvantage in shots on goal and survived a 94-minute stalemate before knocking off the eighth-ranked Trojans in penalty kicks on Thursday night.
North (14-1-2) moves into Saturday evening’s sectional championship against rival Columbus East, which defeated Whiteland 4-1 in the other semifinal.
“Whenever you have a goalkeeper like Mal Gilley, you want PKs — against a team that, on paper, is a better team,” Young said. “I think there were only a few people in this stadium that actually gave us a chance to win this game; nobody else did. But we believed that we could, and the girls fought hard.”
Gilley asserted herself immediately during the first round of kicks, moving to her right to stop Peyton Murphy’s shot. Lauren Barker then converted on North’s first shot, and the Bull Dogs never trailed from there. Paige Northern’s tally for Center Grove was canceled out by K.J Ely’s for North, and when Gilley stepped up again and made the save on a Jaden Hippenmeyer shot, the outcome was all but settled.
Emily Ellis and Rion Stevens put their kicks home to clinch it for North.
“That was the best,” Stevens said of banking the final shot. “I’d never taken a PK before, and it felt really good to do that senior year, to fulfill that wish. It was super nice to feel like I was helping the team in that aspect.
Through the first 40 minutes, it looked as though the chances of a shootout were long indeed, as Center Grove (10-2-6) kept almost continuous pressure on the Bull Dogs.
The Trojans got on the board in the 22nd minute when a deep free kick by Molly Tapak found the feet of Northern, who redirected it to Hippenmeyer right in front of the goal mouth. Hippenmeyer cashed in for her third goal of the sectional and 10th of the season.
Center Grove continued to have the run of play for the remainder of the half. Hippenmeyer had another chance to pad the lead off a Tapak cross with in the 29th minute, but her shot attempt was pulled just right of the net. Less than three minutes later, a hard shot from Tapak inside the 18-yard line clanged off of the crossbar.
North’s first threatening move forward came just over three minutes into the second half when a long ball forward connected with Ely, but Trojan defender Casy Zuch came over and smothered the play before Ely could get a shot off.
The Bull Dogs built some momentum from there and didn’t waste their next opportunity. Some miscommunication by the Trojan defense inside the box led to a loose ball in a crowd, and Barker was able to get a touch on it and roll it into the net in the 52nd minute.
Tying the game up was exactly the break that North needed.
“(Young) had a plan,” Center Grove coach Mike Bishop said. “He packed the box, didn’t want any part of the game after they got a goal and played for PKs. It was easy to see. And it’s frustrating, because we had our opportunities. We made lots of opportunities; we just didn’t get on the end of it. It just wasn’t our night.”
Barker had a chance to put North ahead in the 69th minute, putting a left-to-right shot just above the outstretched arms of Center Grove netminder Kylie Crum, but it glanced off the right goalpost and out of harm’s way. The Trojans had two quality opportunities of their own before the end of regulation, but Emily Karr’s rebound shot was stopped by Gilley, and another close-range shot from Northern went wide right.
The only real scoring chance for either side during the two overtimes came in the fifth minute of the first session, when Karr set Hippenmeyer out in front. Gilley was there to make her 14th save of the night, however, foreshadowing the result to come.
Gilley welcomed the pressure that falls on a goalkeeper in that do-or-die situation.
“All I think, really, is ‘I’m ready,’” she said. “I’m just ready. I’m nervous, but I’m ready. That’s just how it is.”
In the nightcap, the Olympians (11-5-1) were able to get the upper hand early when Norah Dwenger scored in the fifth minute. Whiteland (6-9-1) briefly drew even on a breakaway goal by sophomore Emma Gill in the 28th minute, but East regained the lead just 31 seconds later on Cami Warren’s tally.
The Warriors stayed in it through much of the second half, keeping the Olympians at bay behind the efforts of goalie McKinley Garrett, who finished with nine saves. But East was finally able to break through for an insurance goal when Kat Soedel scored in the 64th minute, and Whiteland wasn’t able to generate any more offensive chances and answer back.
Sydney Berkemeier tacked on an insurance goal for the Olympians in the 78th minute.
Berkemeier, Ruth Federle, Dwenger and Heidi Murphy had assists for East, which outshot Whiteland 19-5. Anna Liimatta recorded one save.
“I thought it was a good team effort,” East coach Ilya Schwartzman said. “Everybody contributed. I thought we had a great amount of possession and attacked well. I think we defended well.”
The sectional final will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence heading into Saturday, and I think it will be a great battle with North,” Schwartzman said. “I think we will be ready.”