FORTVILLE

Center Grove’s boys soccer team spent the first 17 matches of this season leaning heavily on an airtight defense.

The latest example of the 13th-ranked Trojans playing to their strength came in Thursday’s 3-1 semifinal victory against Franklin Central at the Class 2A Mt. Vernon Regional. Center Grove (12-3-3), the defending Class 2A state champions, raced to a 2-0 lead at the half and played even with the Flashes the final 40 minutes to qualify for Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship match against Perry Meridian.

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The Falcons downed Greenfield-Central 1-0 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

“I thought the defense played really well. They were a little skittish to start the game, a little skittish at the end,” Trojans coach Jameson McLaughlin said. “But overall they didn’t let people get behind them, which is really important.

“We didn’t score nearly as many goals as we did last year, so we knew we would have to play really good defense. They’ve done an outstanding job, and Jacob (Cooley) is outstanding in the goal.”

Center Grove’s first goal came off a header by senior defender Griffin Smith at 16:44 with Luke Boha credited with the assist. Senior midfielder Connor Campbell doubled the spread with a goal only 29.1 seconds before intermission.

In the second half, Trojans’ senior midfielder Alex Cuculick made it 3-0 with a sliding left-footed goal past the Flashes’ goalkeeper at 29:56.

Franklin Central averted the shutout on a penalty kick from senior Chase Bratcher.

His team ahead 3-1, McLaughlin pulled his starters with 6:13 remaining in the second half.

The Trojans enter Saturday night’s title contest here having won all 11 matches since Mt. Vernon began hosting a regional in 2011.

Center Grove in that time has outscored the opposition by a total of 47-4.

Trojans senior defender Gus Caito knows it will take another solid showing defensively for the program to advance to semistate for a sixth consecutive season.

“I think tonight we had spurts of really good play. Whenever we keep the ball on the ground and play through the middle and try to distribute from our mid, I think that’s when we play our best,” Caito said.

“I think we play a lot from our defense. We try to play defense as a team, and I think that makes us stand out.”

With 14 regional championships since 1995, Center Grove is second all-time in Indiana behind only Evansville Memorial (15).

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