INDIANAPOLIS – It was unfamiliar territory at halftime of Saturday’s sectional final for the top-ranked Zionsville boys soccer team.
For the first time all season, the Eagles trailed in a game, and had struggled to get anything going against the No. 4 North Central Panthers.
Things weren’t getting much better in the early part of the second half either, giving the Eagles just more than 20 minutes to salvage their season.
And in a blink of an eye, the Eagles turned it around. Chris Freeman tied the game with a free kick with 20:56 to go, and Alex Carr added the game-winning goal 10 minutes later as Zionsville won the sectional title for the second-straight season, topping North Central 2-1.
“We knew that North Central is a great team,” Freeman said. “Getting past them gives us a lot of confidence moving into the regional, and we know we have to beat the best to go all the way. This was a great win for us.”
Playing with the wind at their backs in the fast half, the Eagles were just a little off with their passing, and couldn’t get anything going toward the Panthers goal.
With 14:02 left in the first half, the Panthers Thomas Phillips scored to put the Eagles behind for the first time this season and that score carried into the half.
“We were lucky to get out of the first half with only one goal against us,” Zionsville head coach Rob Jordan said. “North Central played extremely well and they took us out of what we wanted to do. We were fortunate to get a couple of chances in second half and took advantage of them. We are really happy to come away with this win.”
The Eagles are a veteran group, with nine seniors and 11 juniors on the roster, many of them who had experience with a deep run in the post-season last year.
Freeman said at the half, the Eagles just had to make sure they stayed positive and focused on playing their game.
“We knew it was only 1-0 and we had been playing soccer our whole lives, and we have all been in that situation before,” Freeman said. “We never really doubted that we could do it and just focused on keeping our heads up. We just had to make sure we were motivating each other and keeping our heads up.”
It was Freeman who delivered the big blow that turned the tide in the Eagles favor.
The Eagles won a free kick 25 yards from goal with 20:56 to go and Freeman curled the shot into the upper left corner, giving the keeper no chance at saving it.
“I saw the way the wall was set up and took a deep breath and took a shot,” Freeman said. “I saw the left-side of the goal was pretty open, so I just tried to put it there.”
North Central nearly took the lead seven minutes later, but a North Central shot was cleared off the line by Zionsville defender Cam Greeson.
Three minutes later, a bouncing ball found Carr right outside the six-yard box, and he buried a shot for the game-winning goal.
Jordan said his teams throughout the years have been on both sides of those situations, and those rollercoaster moments are part of the joy of soccer.
“You see it so many times, where a ball goes off the post, or there is a big save, and then all of a sudden it’s in the net on the other end,” Jordan said. “You have to take advantage of the chances that come in front of you. It was a tough, fun match today, and we had Chris and Alex step up in the second half.”
The Eagles were able to bunker down defensively in the last 10 minutes and hold off the North Central final chances and win their 10th sectional title all-time.
They will face Cathedral in the opening round of the regional at noon at Carmel next Saturday.
Jordan said after two tough battles in the sectional, his team knows they have to be ready for anything.
“We are going to see more great teams along the line, and this was great experience for our guys,” Jordan said. “Regardless of how bad we played or didn’t do things like we wanted to, being able to step up when it really mattered was important.”
Freeman said that the Eagles have to use their experiences from last year and throughout the season as they get ready for the Irish.
The other semifinal will be Avon and Greenfield-Central.
“We have been here before and we know what it takes to do it,” Freeman said. “We just have to keep preparing and keep playing our best soccer. If we play our best soccer, I feel like we are going to be hard to stop.”
Note: For an article about the Eagles’ semifinal win over Carmel, go to timessentinel.com.