Panthers early offense not enough against Dragons
Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
When the Corydon Central boys’ soccer team was handed a 5-0 loss at the claws of rival Silver Creek on Sept. 9, the Panthers were in a state of flux. After taking the helm from departed skipper Justin Bottorff just days earlier, Panthers’ alumnus Cory Thomas had to ensure that his inherited program could grow on the fly while looking for his first win as head coach.
That loss against the Dragons was just the second of four straight losses before Thomas got his first win on Sept. 23 against Salem. Since then, the Panthers won three straight to end the regular season. With a healthier, more complete roster that had about a month to adjust to the change in leadership, Thomas’ improved Panthers had a chance at redemption Oct. 4 against the Dragons in the first round of the Scottsburg sectional.
“We didn’t have a full team, we hadn’t practiced a ton, so, for me, I thought that we were a more well-rounded team and had most of our pieces this time around,” Thomas said. “I knew it was going to be a different game from five nothing, and it ended up being a fantastic game to watch.”
Unlike their regular-season matchup, the Panthers struck first, courtesy of a goal from junior forward Hayden Ettner. The Dragons, while surprised by the Panthers’ early aggression, responded halfway through the first half when a pair of seniors teamed up against freshman goalkeeper Bryce Gerlach. Miguel Trejo found Aron Guerrero before the latter fired the ball to the back of the net to tie the contest at 1-1.
That tie did not last long as Ettner found senior forward Nolan Ables, who shot the ball past the Dragons’ goalkeeper to help the Panthers retake the lead just over a minute later.
Despite the remainder of the half being filled with physical and chippy play that ultimately resulted in yellow cards for each side, the Panthers went into halftime with a 2-1 advantage.
“We really executed our game plan, and I think (Silver Creek) wasn’t quite ready for it, so we jumped up on the scoreboard to take advantage,” Thomas said. “Defensively, we really locked it down. We had a lot of speed, and our passing was really, really good in the first half. It just got our energy up, and we bounced ahead.”
Whatever was said to the Dragons by head coach Tim Quakenbush seemed to be effective as the Dragons came out much more focused to begin the second half. About 10 minutes passed before the Dragons tied the contest once again, this time with Trejo dishing a dime to Austin Guerrero that bounced off the outstretched hands of Gerlach before rolling into the goal to tie the match.
A few minutes later, Trejo took matters into his own feet as shot one past Gerlach after the feed from Aurelia Antoci, sending the Dragons’ bench into a frenzy as Silver Creek took a 3-2 lead.
The remainder of the contest was a war of attrition as the Panthers did everything in their power to try to score. Untimely offsides violations and passes that were just a hair too strong ultimately spelled the end for the Panthers as the Dragons won the tight contest 3-2.
“Coming in mid-season made it difficult, but, what it means to me, coming back to the school I went to, that is special,” Thomas said. “Seeing all these guys who are going through four years of what I went through not too long ago. This is just a great group of guys. It just sucks to lose for these guys because they worked so hard in this game.”
While the Panthers saw the end of the careers of its trio of seniors in Ables, Dylan Friese and Clayton Crawford, the Dragons move on to meet Charlestown in the sectional semifinal today (Wednesday). The Pirates drew this year’s first-round bye, meaning that their meeting with the Dragons will be their first taste of postseason action.