By Justin Sokeland
BLOOMINGTON – Bedford North Lawrence junior Hunter Cline, in no-limit Hold ‘Em poker terms, went all in. And the ball went all in for a historic victory.
Cline’s go-ahead goal with 18:04 left powered the Stars to a thrilling 2-1 win over Bloomington North in the semifinal round of the Class 3A sectional on Wednesday evening. BNL (7-6-1) advanced to face Bloomington South in the championship match on Saturday night.
BNL has never won a sectional title since the IHSAA made soccer an official sport in 1994. There’s a first time for everything, according to the ancient cliche, and these Stars are attempting to sweep all those ‘firsts” off the table. Past and present coaches believe the hold-your-breath triumph was the first over a Bloomington school, at least since the program was elevated from club status.
Cline pushed all his chips on the table. His leaping header, following Jacob Kolk’s rocket blast off the crossbar, on a jump-ball battle with the North goalie gave the Stars the lead, and that started an agonizing countdown to the finish.
”I saw Jacob taking the shot, and when it didn’t go in, I knew it was my opportunity,” Cline said. “It was that, or nothing. So I went for it, I went all in.”
Kolk’s crack from the top of the penalty box caught the bar, ricocheted straight down and bounded high in the air. Cline won the mid-air clash.
”That was an effort goal,” BNL coach Logan Jackson said. “That’s what we’ve preached. Once we shoot, keep crashing. You never know.”
You would never know, just by the statistics, how BNL won. The Cougars (5-10-3) had a huge 19-5 advantage in shots and a 10-1 edge in corner kicks, which means BNL goalie Evan Payne was under constant pressure. When Payne limped to the sideline for 14 minutes in the second half with a back injury, freshman back-up Tanner Robbins made two huge saves.
That’s a dangerous way to live. But for a team that survived a sudden-death shootout with Terre Haute South in the first round, it was – yawn – nothing.
“We were flirting a little bit,” Jackson said. “But at this point, you have to take some chances. It worked out.”
BNL took the lead early as Danny Cline dumped off a perfect set-up pass to Seth Sherfick for a 25-yard laser into the upper right corner of the net at 32:07 in the first half.
North was finally rewarded for its aggressive attack early in the second half. Kaan Silay slammed home the equalizer off a Matthias Ortiz assist at 35:16. And when Payne went down with a wrenched back after making a mid-air save just two minutes later, BNL was teetering.
“In years past, when they would tie it or go up one, we’d hang our heads,” Jackson said. “We didn’t do that. I was afraid we would because we’ve done it so many times. They stayed composed and kept battling. They didn’t lose a step, in fact we stepped it up a little bit more after that.”
And the rookie goalie? He admitted he was “kinda” nervous. He didn’t act it.
”That’s gutsy,” Jackson said. “He did his job.”
Payne returned just before the Cline goal, and he contributed another great deflection save with 14 minutes left. From that point, BNL hunkered down into a defensive posture and started clock watching while playing keep-away.
”That was forever,” Cline said. “Even those last 10 seconds lasted forever. We’re beyond happy right now.”
“That was a program builder,” Jackson said of the win that should earn some respect. “It’s nice. We played really hard. That was some of the best ball movement we’ve had all year.”
The Panthers (10-2-1) thumped Terre Haute North 4-0 in the second semifinal and extended their unbeaten streak to nine consecutive matches. That includes a 5-0 win over the Stars on Sept. 20. South has won six straight sectional titles.