TERRE HAUTE —
Its rope-a-dope strategy has Terre Haute South atop the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings in girls high school soccer, and the Braves stayed there Thursday night with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over visiting Terre Haute North.
The Patriots seemed to be in control until well into the second period, having a marked advantage in shot attempts and twice taking one-goal leads.
But South’s Courtney Hubbard got a pair of her patented opportunity goals to tie the score twice, the Braves gradually began to take over play, and Makenzie Mauriello provided the winning tally by bending a corner kick just inside the far goal post with 14:56 left.
All according to plan, coach Dave Drake of the Braves said afterward.
“[The Patriots] have more speed than we do,” the coach noted, “so at the beginning we let them burn up some energy and tried to maintain control of our goal box.
“We’ve been a second-half team all year,” added Drake, whose Braves already have beaten Carmel and Ben Davis in MIC play. “When the other team gets weary, our girls are maintaining the same pace. They’re not very fast, but they’re pretty competitive.”
The strategy works for two reasons.
One, any Brave you talk to will tell you, without prompting, that her team really is a second-half team, if Thursday is an indication.
Two, the Braves have Kelli Buchanan in goal.
The South senior had eight saves in the first period alone, keeping her team in the match while the Patriots peppered her with shots. She showed her confidence and sure hands by leaping to intercept crossing passes, and got at least one save that wasn’t a save — no shot attempt — by diving to the ground and wrestling the ball off a Patriot’s foot in the opening minute of the second period.
“She’s a security blanket,” Drake agreed. “She’s an all-MIC goalkeeper, and she can cover for a lot of errors.”
“Kelli was absolutely fantastic,” said coach Kyle Baker of North. “She was the player of the game. We created a number of chances, and she did a great job.”
Most of Buchanan’s best work came after the Braves had fallen behind. North’s Spencer Grim got free on the right side about two minutes into the match and fired a shot; Buchanan dived to save it, but Michaela Schuld was lurking at the other corner of the net to tap it in with 37:50 on the scoreboard.
Despite North’s 15-6 advantage in first-period shots, the score remained 1-0 until the last three minutes.
“It was a busy game for me,” Buchanan said afterward. “[The Patriots] had good scoring opportunities. They always come out hard for us.”
Then a Patriot foul led to a free kick by Mauriello, and Hubbard nudged the ball into the net among a crowd of Patriot defenders with 2:40 remaining before intermission.
A foul in the penalty box gave the Patriots a free kick early in the second period, and Jordan Bray converted for a 2-1 lead with 33:12 left in the match. But it wasn’t long after that that the match started to turn in the home team’s direction.
“South played awesome,” Baker said afterward. “[The Braves] are very good at 50-50 balls, so we knew we had to challenge them at that, and we did not. They were able to play very direct and get forward quickly … they were able to play to their strengths.”
The Braves got another sudden goal near the midpoint of the period. Lauren Aue launched a high shot from the right flank, North goalkeeper Jaime McKee had to reach over her head with both hands to knock it away, and Hubbard was on the doorstep again to tap it in.
“It was a whole team effort,” said Hubbard, who didn’t have all that many touches to have a two-goal match. “[The Patriots] played very good defense.”
“Courtney is always in the right spot,” Drake said.
Hubbard did have one other significant touch, however, and it came with about 15 minutes left. Her shot from the middle was deflected wide, but that set up the corner kick that Mauriello turned into a thing of beauty.
“We knew set plays were big for [the Braves], and we gave them way too many,” Baker said.
“I was looking to play it in to Courtney or Abby Pigg, because they’re always there to finish,” Mauriello said of her decisive shot. “I got lucky when it curved in.”
Lucky or not, there’s a reason the South senior takes her team’s corners and free kicks.
“I’ve taken them since my freshman year,” Mauriello said. “I guess I’m just one of us who has a big foot.”
The two teams are likely to meet again in sectional play, which is a good thing. Play on Thursday was physical, emotional and quite entertaining, and drew a crowd of 1,900 paid admissions that South athletic director Brian Mancuso said was the biggest soccer gate the school had ever had.
“It was a fantastic game,” even Baker said with enthusiasm.
“We’re No. 1 in the MIC right now, and this was one I really, really, really wanted to win,” said Mauriello.
“It was a great game,” added Hubbard. “It’s our senior year, our last chance to do this … and we’re 3-0 in the MIC now; we’ve never done that before.”
Terre Haute North 1 1 — 2
Terre Haute South 1 2 — 3
THN — Michaela Schuld (Spencer Grim), 37:50
THS — Courtney Hubbard (Makenzie Mauriello), 2:40
THN — Jordan Bray penalty kick, 33:12
THS — C.Hubbard (Lauren Aue), 25:44
THS — Ma.Mauriello corner kick, 14:56
Shots — THN 24, THS 13.
Shots on goal — THN 12, THS 7.
Corner kicks — THN 4, THS 4.
Next — Both South (6-1, 3-0 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) and North (6-2, 1-2) have conference doubleheaders at Center Grove on Saturday against the host Trojans and Indianapolis North Central.