Hay sees win over Tigers as potential season-changer
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
Photos by Rick Nation
Victor Rodarte, the Bryant Hornets’ junior goal-keeper, sat through the[more] entirety of regulation play as his teammates battled the Little Rock Central Tigers on Monday night at Bryant Stadium. Jace Denker, the team’s starting keeper, and the Bryant defense were doing a bang-up job against the Tigers, holding them to one second-half goal.
But when regulation time expired, Bryant head coach Jason Hay put Rodarte, cold off the bench, in goal for the penalty kicks that are used for overtimes.
The Tigers got their first three PK’s past him but on the fourth attempt, Rodarte got the block. Though Bryant didn’t take advantage immediately, the play made the next Central kicker think a little perhaps, maybe trying to be too fine with his kick, the ball sailed over the goal.
Freshman Bryce Denker took his turn for Bryant and drilled it home as the Hornets knocked off the Tigers.
“Most teams don’t even have one good keeper, we have two,” stated Hay. “And Rodarte is the best at stopping PK’s. I learned that early on. We take PK’s every day at the end of practice and he gets 90 percent of them. We’ve always told him, we don’t hesitate to put him in and, for sure, if we go to PK’s, he’s the man. (Jace) Denker will easily concede that he’s better at stopping PK’s.
“He finally got his chance to get out and help us win a game,” the coach continued. “I told him, ‘If you’ll just stop one, we’ll get the rest.’ Well, he stopped that third one. He did an awesome job coming off the bench, not playing one second of the game.
“I’ve seen other teams do that, where they have maybe a guy that’s more athletic as far as diving and catching, and Rodarte is very athletic in that way,” he added. “That’s been our plan and Coach Bob (Williams, volunteer assistant) came up to me before the PK’s and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said we’d already decided that. I said, ‘Let’s do it. We know we can do it. There’s no reason to change our mind now. It’s a hard call, not that we were worried about (Rodarte) but because somebody’s been sitting on that bench so long. But he handled it like a champ and we’re all proud of him for that.
“The first couple that Central put in were in the corners,” Hay mentioned. “There was nothing he could do about them. He even guessed right.”
Regarding Bryce Denker’s winning kick, the coach said, “That’s a whole lot of pressure to put on a ninth grade kid and he got it.”
It was the first win on PK’s in quite some time for the Hornets.
“I think it was the first since my first year (three years ago) when we were in a tournament at Paragould,” he mentioned.
The Hornets also got a lift from Holden Chavis, a defender, who knocked in one of the PK’s, as did Forrest Fowler and Alex Rowlan.
“Usually some of these football guys that come out, they’re not your typical soccer player,” explained Hay. “They’re athletic and fast but they usually don’t have the touch. We put them at defender to try to be physical and not get out-run.
“But the last couple of weeks, Chavis has been just nailing PK’s,” he added. “I told him, ‘I know you’ve never taken a PK (in a game) in your life. Do you think you could do it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ And he drilled it. I was proud of him.”
A line-up adjustment played a role as well.
“We moved Reed (Evans) out of the back into the mid to get better control of the mid,” Hay said. “We put our two best ball-handlers in the middle of the field and they controlled the midfield most of the game. I thought that was the best we controlled the mid in a while.”
Not that the Hornets needed any extra motivation but, as has been the case before when the Tigers came to Bryant, they came out wearing their home white jerseys. In the previous instance, Central’s coach claimed they didn’t have enough black jerseys for everybody but, as instructed by the officials, they returned to the locker room and came back out in black.
On Monday, they did the same thing only this time the officials came out to tell Hay and it was the Hornets who had to return to the locker room and don their road blues.
Hay acknowledged that it provided a little extra fire for his team. “They gave me all the pre-game speech I needed right there,” he said. “They waited until the captains came out to let us know.”
In the bigger picture, Bryant, now 9-8-1 overall and 4-4 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference, heads down the home stretch of the season renewed.
“We’ve been losing close all year,” Hay noted. “We’ve had a lot of just unlucky things happen. Finally, we had something go right at the end of the game. If we’ll use it as a tool, it could be a season changer, I think.
“I was very proud of everyone’s effort,” he concluded. “I could brag on every one of them.”