When doctors told Rick Sauter he would need heart bypass surgery, his first thought was Center Grove soccer, and he asked the doctor if it were possible to postpone the procedure until November?

After all, the soonest he could schedule his open heart surgery was Oct. 7 — the opening round of sectional play for the team.

He didn’t want to miss the opening round of sectionals then spend all of October recovering and unable to watch the Trojans’ playoff push.

Sauter has been the president of the boys soccer booster club at Center Grove for two years and has assisted the team in a treasurer role. His dedication to the team includes collecting money for pregame meals, organizing buses and handing out directions to parents for road games.

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Sauter loves Center Grove soccer.

His son, Reed, is a starting forward for the Trojans, and Sauter wanted to make sure he didn’t miss a single minute of his son’s senior season or that of the 13 other seniors that Reed has grown up playing soccer with.

Sure, Sauter wanted to be at each game for his son and those boys, but the underlying reason for his request to postpone open heart surgery came courtesy of his memory from the semistate a year ago. Center Grove was standing on the doorstep of the state finals before a late goal by Brebeuf sent the Trojans home with a 4-3 loss just one round shy of the chance to play for a state championship.

Thinking about the heartache of last season’s semistate loss actually might have been the only time Sauter has thought about his heart since learning he would need bypass surgery. But for much of the nearly six weeks that have passed since doctors told him the news, all he has thought about is that group of young men that fell one game short of state last season and the chance to redeem themselves today.

“I know the magnitude of the situation, but I haven’t had that many worries about the surgery,” Sauter said. “I’m focusing more on the state title game than the surgery. After being so close last year, I know we have an awfully good team this season and a real chance to win state.”

The reality of his situation isn’t entirely lost on him. Sauter initially wanted to get the bypass surgery to correct his two blockages done as soon as possible so he could recover before the state tournament started. He said he didn’t want Reed and his younger son, Drew, a freshman at Center Grove, to worry.

In the first few days he debated whether it would be a good idea to tell his family with the state tournament approaching, he said, but he wanted to give his boys time to understand what was going on.

Sauter and his boys kept the news in the family after that and focused on going about life business as usual approaching the state tournament.

That was the plan, at least, until Center Grove met Carmel in the semistate. With the Trojans were approaching a situation eerily similar to last season, head coach Jameson McLaughlin provided his team with a little added incentive and something more to play for.

Before Center Grove’s semistate showdown with Carmel, McLaughlin, who was one of the few people who knew about Sauter’s impending open heart surgery, asked Sauter if he could share the information with the team if they needed an added dose of motivation.

At halftime, Center Grove and Carmel were tied at one goal apiece. That’s when McLaughlin shared the news with his team.

The Trojans were fired up. They were remembering the results from the semistate the previous year. They knew the program had been defeated in its 13 previous semistate appearances. And now a teammate’s dad they have known since they were 9 years old was going to have open heart surgery.

And it worked. Senior Keaton Radecki scored the go-ahead goal about 15 minutes into the second half, and Center Grove didn’t look back.

This week was one of the few times Sauter thought about his open heart surgery, which is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Monday.

In reflection, he says he is especially thankful: The tournament run and these boys have served as an entertaining distraction.

And it’s been the same for his boys. The soccer season has taken the family all the way to the weekend before his surgery without anyone really having enough time to worry about it, he said.

Sauter’s mind hasn’t gone to places of fear and anxiety because of the team’s deep tournament run. What he thought was a reason for him to delay his procedure has actually turned out to be diversion, keeping him from wondering about what-ifs.

Sauter said he is ready to watch his son and the other 13 seniors play their last game today as Trojans, and he’s already excited to get back to helping with Center Grove High School radio broadcasts when basketball season begins and watching his boys compete in track and club soccer in the spring.

He knows his surgery is less than 48 hours away, but the Trojans have one, huge, final game to play. And for now, that’s all Sauter is worried about.

“Following this team through the tournament, it’s been a great thing for my mind. It’s kept my mind off the surgery. If they would have lost in sectionals, I would have had a lot more time to think about the surgery,” Sauter said. “And both boys have been so busy that neither have sat down to dwell on the situation. This team doing well has been a great motivator, and I won’t have much time to worry about Monday.”

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The Center Grove boys soccer team plays for a state championship at 6 p.m. today. Get scoring updates and see photos during the game on our website at dailyjournal.net and on our social media pages at facebook.com/DailyJournalNews and @DailyJournalNet on Twitter.

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Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at celliot@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2719.