Photos by Kevin Nagle and Rick Nation
On an emotional Senior Night, the Bryant Lady Hornets completed an undefeated sweep to the[more] 7A/6A-South Conference championship with a 3-0 win over the El Dorado Lady Wildcats at Bryant Stadium.
The win, coupled with Bentonville’s victory over Fayetteville, settled Bryant (now 18-2-1 overall) into the No. 2 seed from the West at the Class 7A State Tournament in Cabot. They’ll receive a valuable first-round bye and open the tourney on Friday, May 10, at 4 p.m., against a team to be determined.
The Lady Wildcats, whose only two losses in conference play were to Bryant, will be the top seed from the South at the 6A State tournament.
Twins Bailey and Shelby Gartrell, along with Lexie Balisterri, Katie Barrington, Kaitlin Gaiser and Morgan Hawkins, were the seniors who were honored. They also combined for the first goal, which didn’t come until there was just 11 seconds left in the first half. Bailey knocked it past the keeper off a feed from Shelby.
“It was a pretty goal,” stated Lady Hornets coach Julie Long.
“I’ll give it to El Dorado,” she added. “They came out and pressured us hard. They put a lot of pressure on us and we had to step up and really play. It’s an excellent send-off to State. Honestly, El Dorado helped us out because they got after us. That’s what we needed in our last game before we play in State.”
The score was 1-0 at intermission.
“I was actually pleased with how the girls played in the first half,” Long said. “They got after it. There wasn’t a minute of the game that I didn’t think they were working hard. We missed several opportunities. I didn’t like that but, for the most part, it was very good.”
The game’s second goal came with around 15 minutes left. Shelby Gartrell got her second assist on a goal by Anna Lowery. Shelby then capped off the victory with a goal with just under three minutes to play off an assist from Balisterri.
“It was a big night; it was an emotional night,” said Long, who explained that the mother of one of the players had died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer. The Bryant teams had a “pink out” to honor those battling cancer.
“There’s five players including one on the boys team who have family members battling cancer,” Long mentioned. “The girls fought hard the whole time and I was pleased. It was honestly because they were playing for somebody other than themselves. The whole night was based on playing for those moms, the parents that supported them. We’re supporting them now. The night was dedicated to them and our seniors.”