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Lady Panthers’ strong season ends in semis

Lady Panthers’ strong season ends in semis
Lady Panthers’ strong season ends in semis
Corydon Central freshman Olivia Torres slides to steal the ball from Silver Creek’s Sarah Montgomery during the Lady Panthers’ 3-0 sectional semi-final loss to the Lady Dragons on Thursday. Photo by Brandon Miniard
Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

The soccer sectional draw could not have been any kinder to the Corydon Central girls’ soccer team. After posting their best regular-season record of the past decade (9-2-1, 5-1 Mid-Southern Conference), the Lady Panthers’ fortunes continued as they received a first-round bye in the seven-team Madison sectional.

With the extra days to rest, the Lady Panthers were able to mend some of the wounds plaguing their roster during the past few weeks. The Lady Panthers’ sectional semi-final matchup was the first to see junior striker Ava Weber return to the lineup after being out with an ankle injury.

With Weber in tow, the Lady Panthers were nearly close to full power offensively as they confronted MSC champion Silver Creek in the sectional semifinal on Thursday. The Lady Dragons previously defeated the Lady Panthers 3-1 a week earlier to decide the MSC title, taking advantage of the Lady Panthers’ reduced offensive capabilities.

Amid knock-down physical play from both sides and officiating that many spectators considered inconsistent, the Lady Panthers once again struggled to score and their season ended as the Lady Dragons shut them out 3-0.

For just over the first four minutes, the two sides were evenly matched, a trend that was expected to continue throughout the heavyweight bout. In the fifth minute, the Lady Dragons got their first opportunity as the Lady Panthers were called for a handball. Merideth Wilkinson took advantage of the situation as she blew her penalty kick by Lady Panthers’ junior goalkeeper Maddison Franks to give the Lady Dragons an early 1-0 lead.

The remaining 35 minutes saw the Lady Panthers come close on multiple shots on goal, only for each of them to either land in the hands of Lady Dragons’ goalkeeper Emma Wilcoxson or be booted away by other Lady Dragons’ defenders. By the time the first half concluded, the Lady Panthers were no closer to catching the Lady Dragons’ 1-0 edge.

“I generally don’t talk about officiating a lot, but I feel like there wasn’t really consistent calls out there. (Silver Creek) got an opportunity early, and it changed the course of the match,” said Corydon Central head coach Derek Korte. “I personally don’t think the penalty kick should have happened, but it did and we flubbed up on our coverage. Once again, our biggest thing was we weren’t rushing the ball and didn’t have great support, offense wasn’t keeping the heat off the defense.”

The Lady Panthers’ efforts for much of the second half continued to bear no fruit as their offense could not get anything past the Lady Dragons’ defense. Matters got worse for the Lady Panthers as the Lady Dragons earned themselves another penalty kick with just over five minutes to go. Facing senior goalkeeper Bella Gerlach, Lydia Wright’s free shot found the back of the net to double the Lady Dragons’ advantage to 2-0.

Not comfortable with a 2-0 lead, Carley Troutman struck with just under two minutes to go as her shot looked like it was destined for the hands of Lady Panthers’ sophomore goalkeeper Sierra Neafus. While Neafus did get her hands on it, the ball bounced off her fingers before rolling into the net, inflicting the final blow to the Lady Panthers’ season.

While the Lady Dragons returned to Madison on Saturday to defeat the host Lady Cubs in a triple overtime championship thriller, the Lady Panthers saw their 2021 campaign come to an end.

This contest was the last ride for the Lady Panthers’ octet of seniors: Gerlach, Emma Bailey, Avery Branham, Camdyn Oberholtzer, Stefanie Torres. Erin Berry, Wendy Garcia and Jenna Mathes. Many of these girls comprised the original core of the Lady Panthers’ junior high program, which Korte helped develop back in 2016.

With this contest potentially being the seniors’ last time together, members of the coaching staff wore the junior high program’s original team shirts, a testament to how far the Lady Panthers’ program has come in the past few seasons.

“My freshman year, we won zero games,” Branham said. “We just kept getting better, and I was really proud of our commitment.”

“This was about coming and showing how our program has evolved over the years,” Korte said. “We lost three matches due to COVID and weather, but we had an excellent record this year — one of the best in the last decade — so that was a mark of improvement. We wanted to show our will and our progress.”

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