October 16, 2019It may have been cold Saturday night in Scottsburg, but the energy brought forth by the North Harrison girls' soccer team provided plenty of warmth and goals.
Five second-half scores against rival Corydon Central sent North Harrison through to the regional round, capturing the program's first Class 2A Sectional championship. The final score of 7-1 featured hat-trick performances out of seniors Gabrielle Scott and Maddie Nicholas.
"Four years; it took four years," said Nicolas. "For us to win, it shows how much we've come together as a team over four years, especially with a big senior group."
With 10 seniors, there was plenty of rallying around the sideline and on the pitch as the final moments ticked down.
Corydon Central goal keeper Lilli Weber rises to get a paw on a corner kick to keep a header chance from North Harrison's Lucy Robertson.
"I'm just so happy," said senior defender Lucy Robertson. "That's four years of work. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I think before the game, my heart was beating through my chest. Now, I don't feel anything."
After three straight one-goal losses in the three previous postseason appearances for the Lady Cats, it was an over-joyous celebration as senior Naomi Scott stepped up to accept the sectional trophy. Scott led the Lady Cats in scoring a season ago but missed the 2019 campaign after suffering a knee injury. Her voice was still powerful on the sideline.
"We knew Corydon would come out super hard," said Robertson. "Naomi spoke up and talked to us before the game with a great speech. She told us you never know when it's going to be your last game. That's how it was for her last year. She didn't know that would be her last (high school) game because she tore her ACL and hasn't played this season. If Corydon was going to come out hard, we had to come out harder. All the girls really took that to heart, and we played our hearts out."
Naomi's twin sister, Gabrielle Scott, broke a 1-all tie late in the opening half with a rocket to the upper netting, putting the Lady Cats ahead 2-1 at the break. Scott, working on ball movement with teammate Cassie Dossett, scored her third goal three minutes into the second half.
For Gabrielle, it was an emotional win as her sister raced to greet her first upon the final horn.
"It was more tough on me knowing how tough it's been on her because she'd give anything to play her senior year," said Gabrielle of her sister. "She loves to play. At the beginning of the year, I talked to coaches Holly (Smith) and Laura (Rainbolt) about it because I was struggling without my partner in crime. We've played together for so long, and not having her presence on the field was a big change for not only me, but for everyone."
Moving forward, the Lady Cats found ways to score, mainly with efficient ball movement from the midfield. Throughout the season, Scott and Nicolas welcomed the goal-scoring abilities of Ali Saunders, Sarah Waynescott, Arianna Black and Dossett to balance out the attack.
"Something we've worked on a lot is moving the ball in the midfield and connecting our passes," said Gabrielle. "We're not just playing kickball; we are playing soccer."
Corydon Central earned a pair of early corner kicks but couldn't generate a quality opportunity. On the opposite side of the field, North Harrison had a load of chances in the opening 40 minutes. Corydon Central keeper Lilli Weber was up to task, making countless saves. In the first nine minutes, Scott and Waynescott had a combined five shots, all saved by Weber.
Combination play, along with individual efforts, prompted several more North Harrison scoring chances thwarted by Weber.
"She took way more shots than she should have," said Corydon Central coach Derek Korte. "Our first touch is something we are going to have to work on for the future. We've gotten better at it, but North Harrison is at the next level with their touch and they are going to exploit you when you aren't executing. Considering our competition, our girls still fought hard."
North Harrison put the first goal across when Waynescott centered a pass from the left to Gabrielle Scott. Chopping the ball to elude a defender, she got in tight and put away her shot.
Two minutes later, Corydon Central evened the score. With five minutes before halftime, Ava Weber lofted a shot from the right side, sailing the ball over North Harrison keeper Bella Gerlach and into the net.
"That was the game we wanted to play in the first half," said Korte. "The energy we were playing with in the first half is how we need to play every single match. They were fighting really hard. They started to run out of gas in the second half."
With a 2-1 lead at the half, North Harrison piled on the goals the next 40 minutes. After Gabrielle Scott notched her third, Nicolas got in on the action by speeding past the Corydon Central defense for a clean look. Nicolas added two more goals inside the final six minutes. She started the game at center-back but moved back to her usual attacking position in the second half once teammate Abby Couch returned from a band competition.
"Abby coming on during the second half really helped us out not only defensively, but allowed me to go back up to where my main position is," said Nicolas.
Also scoring in the second half was Dossett, capitalizing on an Emma Grace Robertson takeaway.
"We had energy, but we weren't finishing well," said Waynescott of the first half. "We had good connected passes but couldn't finish. The second half we finished better."
The win pushes North Harrison (13-2-2) to the Jasper Regional, where it will face No. 4 Evansville Mater Dei (12-6-1) at 10 a.m. The opposite semi-final will feature Jasper (10-7-3) vs. No. 11 Northview (17-1). The championship will take place at 7 p.m.
"It's incredible to work as a team for three years and then finally get it in my fourth year," said Gabrielle Scott. "Everyone who has come through this program has worked so hard for so long. It's not just one or two people; it's a whole group."