The Center Grove High School boys soccer team controlled the tempo in the first half against Whiteland, yet had just one goal to show for it.
Trojans first-year head coach Jameson McLaughlin reminded his players at halftime to finish their mission strong.
“We talked at halftime that we have a mark on our back because we’ve won more sectionals than any team in the state, so teams want to come in here and beat us,” McLaughlin said.
“I have 13 seniors and this is the last 40 minutes they have on this field, so they probably want to leave with a good impression.”
The Class 2A No. 7 Trojans did just that on Saturday, beating Whiteland, 5-0, in the Center Grove championship game.
The Trojans (14-2-2) will face Franklin Central in the Mt. Vernon Regional semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday.
This was Center Grove’s 21st sectional title and the 11th in a row.
Senior Conrad Bomber led the way against the Warriors with three goals and an assist.
“He’s been a good scorer not just this year, but all four years he’s been here,” said McLaughlin, who was previously the Trojans’ junior varsity coach. “In two seasons on JV, I think he had 50 goals. He’s a kid that puts the ball in the back of the net.”
Bomber, who has a team-high 16 goals, scored the first goal on a header with 23:10 left in the first half.
His second came in the first two minutes of the second half. After senior Kyle Parry scored to make it 3-0, Bomber had his third goal with 26:17 remaining. Three-plus minutes later he delivered an assist on junior Jared Wilkerson’s goal.
“I’ve got to give a lot of thanks for my teammates for getting me the ball,” Bomber said. “It’s a collective team effort.”
Bomber said he believed this year’s team has the best chance to get that first state title for the program.
“We got all the depth,” Bomber said. “We feel like this is our year, and we really have a good shot at winning state. We’ve got 20 players on our sectional roster and all of them can go in and play. We’re just that deep.”
McLaughlin said his Trojans did a great job of playing faster in the second half against Whiteland.
“Whiteland did an amazing job in the first half of playing tight, staying close and not letting us have anything easy,” McLaughlin said. “They’re very big and very athletic. Their coach has done an amazing job with them. He’s really turned that program around.”
Whiteland coach Justin VanHorn was emotional about bidding farewell to his eight seniors.
“I love these guys. Most talented class I’ve ever had. Irreplaceable. They mean a lot to this program — first (Mid-State) conference title in school history and first winning season. Thirteen wins is amazing,” VanHorn said.
“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season if I thought we’d be 13-4-1 at the end of the season, I would have been surprised to be here. But I knew these guys could do it. They had the strength and mentality to get there.”
Center Grove senior forward Keaton Radecki suffered an ankle injury during the first half and didn’t return. McLaughlin is unsure of whether he will be ready to go in the regional.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, so it was nice not to have any (in the second half) and in the last 20 minutes get some kids some rest,” McLaughlin said. “The first game of the sectional was the first time we’ve had everyone healthy this season.”