NOBLESVILLE — It took three weeks into the season for the Noblesville girls soccer team to win its first game.
Somehow the Millers found a way to turn an 0-4 start into the program’s first sectional championship in eight years.
Senior forward Taylor Crowe’s first-half goal was the difference as Noblesville beat eighth-ranked Hamilton Southeastern 1-0 Saturday in the Class 2A sectional final.
After the game, players passed around the sectional trophy and posed for pictures with family and friends as coach Mike Brady reflected on the unlikely journey.
“Nobody lost faith,” Brady said. “They believed in themselves and they believed in each other, and you saw that today. We knew it was going to be a battle. Up 1-0, we knew the game wasn’t over.”
The Millers (6-6-2), ranked No. 17, advance to Wednesday’s regional in Logansport. It was Noblesville’s second win of the week against a ranked team after dispatching Fishers 4-1 in Thursday’s semifinal.
“I can’t believe it,” Crowe said. “We’ve worked for a sectional title since our freshman year.”
It appeared early Saturday that the team to capitalize first would come away with the win.
The Millers’ opportunity came with 27 minutes to play in the first half. Senior forward Delaney Riester kicked a perfect crossing pass to Crowe, who was standing in front of the goal and fired it just out of reach of HSE goalie Natalie Wilkinson.
“Taylor Crowe is one of the best players in the state and took the team on her shoulders,” said HSE coach Greg Davidson, whose team finished the season 12-4-1.
While Crowe provided the heroics offensively, goalie Mackenzie Kincaid made a spectacular one-handed save on a shot from Royals freshman forward Layla Brown with 26:45 to play in the game. Kincaid was able to get her right hand on the well-struck shot and send it over the net.
“It was phenomenal,” Brady said. “It’s one of the best saves I’ve ever seen the way she tipped it up. She’s one of the best goalies to come through this program.”
The Royals put pressure on Noblesville throughout much of the second half – outshooting the Millers 5-3 then – but couldn’t get the break they needed.
“Their goalie came up huge,” said Davidson, whose team lost to Noblesville twice this season. “They were great shots and great opportunities. Fifteen or 16 games we played this season, that would have been a goal.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game and come down to who could sneak one in.”
The Millers had a couple of good chances in the closing minutes to pad their lead, but sophomore forward Keely Hoopingarner’s shot with 7:35 to play went over the net, while Riester hit the bar about 30 seconds later.
HSE’s last chance came with 1:45 remaining on a free kick by senior Kara Sanders. Sanders slipped on the kick, and Ava Keaffaber’s shot from about 20 yards out went well over the net.
Wilkinson finished with five saves for the Royals.