The championship medal placed around Keaton Radecki’s neck Saturday night will always be a reminder of the senior midfielder’s desire to persevere.

Sidelined for most of the 2014 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and strained medial collateral ligament (MCL), the Center Grove midfielder’s long and often painful road back concluded with a Class 2A state title.

“I don’t think I could have written a better story,” said Radecki, whose game-winning goal in last week’s 2-1 win against Carmel in the title match of the Evansville Semistate qualified the Trojans for the program’s first State Finals.

“I can’t even process what’s going on right now. It’s crazy.”

To fully appreciate Radecki’s euphoria following his team’s 4-0 victory against Lafayette Harrison at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium on Saturday, one must first revisit the sixth match of his junior season.

Playing at conference rival Carmel, Radecki said he remembers going for a ball when the bottom of his leg hit that of a Greyhounds’ player, dislocating his right knee.

The Trojans won the match (1-0), but lost a starter.

Surgery on Radecki’s injured knee was performed on the knee Oct. 15, 2014, by Dr. Kurt Martin of Greenwood Orthopedics.

What ensued were a multitude of small victories – wheelchair to crutches to walking with a limp to the rehabilitation sessions designed to strengthen Radecki’s knee, spirits and confidence.

Rehab sessions took place three times weekly at Hayden Physical Therapy in Greenwood. Radecki also remained dedicated to a series of home exercises that would assist in building the muscles around his right knee.

By Aug. 3, the first day of practice, Radecki was back on the field motivated to make up for lost time. His final step in this 14-month odyssey came late in the regular season when Radecki was cleared for competition without having to wear a bulky brace on his knee.

Center Grove coach Jameson McLaughlin remembers the sequence of events well.

“Keaton really hated that brace. He had been cleared to not wear it before our match against Southport (on Sept. 24), but was wearing it when it broke while he was running in the second half,” McLaughlin said.

“He had to play the rest of the match (a 4-1 CG victory) without it. After that he just seemed like a different player. For Keaton to stay healthy this season and be able to enjoy this is great to see.”

Radecki finished the season with three goals, an assist and a place in history as a starter for his school’s first state champion in boys soccer.

Two of the goals came during Center Grove’s postseason dominance where the Trojans outscored seven opponents by a total of 36-4.

Radecki as well as the other 12 seniors on Center Grove’s roster reveled in finally bringing a state championship trophy to their school’s display case after coming up short at semistate the previous three seasons.

“It just feels like relief, honestly. We’ve put so much work in since we were kids. It feels like finally the hard work is paying off,” said senior defender Nathan Silva, who scored his team’s second goal on a penalty kick in the first half.

“I really feel like we deserved the win tonight. It was probably our best game of the season and we saved it for last.”

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.