Each of the past four years, Center Grove could see the prize in the distance, only to have it snatched away. Each year, the Trojans made it to the semistate round only to return home disappointed.
So this year, after advancing to the state championship for the first time in program history with a 2-1 win over No. 6 Carmel, the Trojans — ranked No. 7 in 2A — could be content to earn a date with No. 8 Harrison Saturday at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium.
Coach Jameson McLaughlin thinks differently.
“I don’t care about getting out of that round if we don’t finish,” he said. “If we don’t finish, it means nothing. Getting here is not what we want. It’s great that we got out of Evansville, but I want a championship.”
The Trojans (20-2-1), riding a nine-game winning streak, have allowed only four goals through six tournament games. They will have to continue playing solid defense to contain a Harrison team that averages nearly four goals per game.
“We have to control the ball and control the middle of the field,” McLaughlin said. “They have a center midfielder that is the heart and soul of their team. If we can control that kid by playing strong defense and possess the ball, I think we’ll have a really good shot.”
Sophomore midfielder Jakub Hall leads the Raiders with 11 goals. Nathan Beeler has 10.
The Trojans have multiple weapons of their own, including Conrad Bomber. The senior has 19 goals, including three in the team’s 5-2 win over Bloomington South in the semistate opener Saturday.
“Conrad is a big, strong kid,” McLaughlin said. “He’s got something you can’t teach a kid, and that’s putting the ball in the net. He’s a natural finisher.”
ANOTHER FIRST TIME FINALIST
Class A No. 8 Cardinal Ritter has also made history this October by advancing to Saturday’s state title game, where they will face No. 2 Mishawaka Marian (6 p.m.). Last Saturday morning, the likelihood of the Raiders’ season continuing looked miniscule.
Ritter trailed Washington 3-0 at halftime of its semistate opener, but the Raiders maintained their composure.
“We have an idea of what we’re made of, and that was not one of our good halves,” said Ritter coach Bashir Birany. “The guys stuck together, as always. They played for each other and we made it happen.”
Carlos Caballero, Evan Espinoza and Carter Grzegorzewski each scored second-half goals and the Raiders advanced on penalty kicks. In the semistate final, Ritter defeated Lawrenceburg 1-0 to reach Carroll Stadium. It was just the second tournament game the team won in regulation.
“We’ve been down before and we battle. We’ve been up before and we battle. We never give up on anybody,” Birany said.
Ritter’s defense has been stellar, allowing more than two goals only twice. That will be tested Saturday, as the Knights feature two players who have 20 or more goals.
“We have this mentality as a defensive team that it’s going to build a lot of energy and we’re going to be extremely successful,” Birany said.
Birany has already led one team to its first state title, winning with Zionsville in 2009. He hopes to do it again.
“Every time you have the first one, there’s a different taste to it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing. No one can take that away from us.”
IF YOU GO:
What: IHSAA boys soccer state championships
Where: IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium
When: Both games Saturday. Class A: Cardinal Ritter vs. Mishawaka Marian, 1 p.m.; Class 2A: Center Grove vs. Harrison, 6 p.m.
Admission: $10 per person