3-1 advantage in penalty kicks pushes Carmel to State finals

Imagine the pressure of penalty kicks as a high school athlete. Hundreds of eyes are staring down at you from a distance as it is just you the forward, at the end of a field all by yourself, with a goalie looking straight into your teenage eyes. It is expected that you score, that you send your crowd into a delirium, and that you push your team one step closer to ultimately winning that match that sends your team to the State championship.

Sound difficult to handle? Now put yourself in the place of Carmel Senior Maggie Morris.

Watching from the bench in what could have possibly been the last game of your IHSAA career, your Greyhounds battled furiously into the cold October night with Columbus North to a 0-0 tie through both regulation and overtimes. And despite the fact you didn't play one single half, minute, or even second on the field, Greyhounds Head Coach Frank Dixon informs you that you are kicking second for the team.

Too much to handle yet?

Now imagine just six days earlier you felt an unbearable, sharp abdominal pain that was too much to handle. On that previous Sunday afternoon you were rushed to the hospital, where an emergency surgery was practiced to remove your appendix. Yet just two days later, you were back on the practice field that Tuesday.

"I just really wanted to get back to my last game as a senior," said Morris.

Somehow, in a moment in which so many would crumble under the weight of the pressure, Carmel Senior Maggie Morris made things look easy. From a spectator's point of view, it was if Morris had ice water running through her veins. Once the referee asked if she was ready, as a silence ran through the North Central Semi-State's air Saturday night, Morris took two steps up to the ball with her hands behind her back, clutching her elbows. For those two steps, she had her eyes closed the entire time.

"I was so nervous," said Morris. "I just tried to do it just like I practice and be as calm as I can."

Upon opening her eyes, Morris was already in the process of kicking the ball. With her left toe just centimeters from accidentally booting the ball forward, Morris swung her right foot forward, knocking the ball with the inside of her foot towards upper-right corner. She made it look flawless, like a professional pool player calling her shot, sending an eight-ball seamlessly across the plain towards the pocket. The Columbus North goalie, with no chance of getting even a digit on the ball, just turned to her left to watch it fly past her.

Once the ball landed into the twine, Morris just turned to a rousing ovation to the crowd. Her features never changed from the calm demeanor she was carrying, but her penalty kick had just put the Greyhounds up 2-0 and eventually put Carmel on their way to a birth in the State finals.

"It feels unreal," said Morris about her emotions after making the goal. "We haven't gotten this far since I have been in here. It just feels like a dream."

Morris' goal was just one of three, joining Samantha Kokoska and Amy Malone, in the Greyhounds 3-1 victory in the penalty kicks session. And though those three ladies succeeded on putting the goals on the board for Carmel, perhaps the most impressive performance on the field came from Greyhounds Senior Sam Tiongson. With Columbus North taking the very first shot of the shootout, the goal keeper gave Carmel sucked any momentum from the Bulldogs they could have been carrying at the moment.

Facing Columbus North's Erica Stewart on the opening shot, Tiongson read Stewart like an open book in a library.

"I started to read her just from her running towards the ball," said Tiongson. "Just because how much her run was bent into it. I knew she was going to go that way (right) because just when you run like that, you can't really touch it with the inside of your foot. So I just kind of went with my instinct on it."

Stewart indeed went right and Tiongson got a diving two hands on the ball, and Columbus North never rebounded afterwards, missing two of the next three shots off the crossbar.

"I think I have the best goal keeper in the state," said Dixon about Tiongson's heroics. "I suppose every coach in the state of Indiana might tell you that, but I think she is the best goal keeper in the state of Indiana."

The victory clinched the Greyhounds first ticket to the State championship weekend for the first time since 2004, in what seemed like a drought for a program that had made it eight times previously. But no time before had the Greyhounds such a challenging road to the State finals, having combated six ranked teams in the state throughout the tournament.

"This is the most difficult route of any team I have ever had to get there," said Dixon. "Just ranked team after ranked team after ranked team, it is amazing."

With the victory, Carmel will face Hamilton Southeastern next Saturday for the Class 2A State title at Kuntz Stadium.

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