Robert Lenhrin’s return to Perry Meridian’s boys soccer lineup was a triumphant one.
After missing 13 matches due to a torn left meniscus, the senior forward came through with the biggest goal of his life Monday as the Falcons rallied for a 2-1 victory against 10th-ranked Center Grove in the Class 3A Franklin Sectional.
Lenhrin’s score came with only 15.4 seconds remaining in the second half.
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“I knew that when we attacked, I didn’t look at the time, but I knew for sure we would get one before overtime,” said Lenhrin, whose boot past diving Trojans goalkeeper Jacob Cooley slipped into the net on the far right side.
The loss proved to be a gut-wrenching conclusion to a 12-4-1 season for a Trojans program that entered the first-round match having won 12 consecutive sectional championships and a state-best 22 overall.
“Soccer can be a cruel game,” third-year Center Grove coach Jameson McLaughlin said. “I think we had, what, 20 shots in the last seven minutes. They have one and put it in. Their keeper (Luciano Salemi) made two or three saves that were absolutely unbelievable.
“We played flat in the first 40 minutes, and that killed us. If we play with the same effort we played with in the second half, it’s a different result.”
All the goals were scored in the second half.
The Trojans struck first when senior midfielder Jackson Neal left-footed a goal off an assist from Ben DeRose just less than two minutes in. Perry Meridian later answered on Van ro Cung’s goal set up by a pass from Bawi cung Lian.
Most of the frantic final few minutes were played near the Falcons’ goal, but the Trojans couldn’t find the back of the net despite repeated attempts.
Neal attempted five shots on goal in the second half alone. While his first was on point, his second sailed 2 feet too high. Junior forward Nick Shirer also came close, just missing on a header and kicking the ball barely left of the goal with 3:38 showing.
Center Grove had hoped for a measure of revenge after losing to Perry Meridian 1-0 in the title contest of last season’s 2A Mount Vernon Regional. They downed the Falcons by the same score during the regular season.
“I knew (Center Grove) wanted this match, and I knew how good they are,” Perry Meridian coach Adam Spieth said. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and sometimes we don’t match up well against teams like that.
“But we kept on fighting. Robert was able to come back today, and that was a big part of our success. I’ve been coaching probably 17 years now, and I’ve never seen a goal scored with 15 seconds left after it was tied up in a sectional match like this. It was unbelievable.”
Tonight features two matches, with the host Grizzly Cubs playing Whiteland at 5 p.m., followed by Greenwood taking on Roncalli. Perry Meridian (10-6-1) is off until Wednesday, when it battles southside rival Southport in the first semifinal.