SPRINGDALE — The Bryant Hornets captured the championship of the Northwest Arkansas soccer[more] tournament Saturday when Jesse Wolf hit the deciding penalty kick in a shootout against the Bentonville Tigers in the final. The winning PK came moments after senior goalkeeper Victor Rodarte made a save on Bentonville's first try of the third level of the shootout.
Meanwhile, the Lady Hornets finished runner-up to Conway. They went 2-1 in round robin play, beating Norman, Okla., 2-0 on Friday night then falling to Conway on Saturday morning, 2-0. They bounced back to defeat Springdale 2-0. Conway won the tournament by going unbeaten in its three games.
To get to the boys final, Bryant downed Fayetteville 1-0 Saturday morning and Oklahoma City Bishop McGuinness 2-0 on Friday night. Though the Hornets only scored three goals in the tourney, they allowed none.
In the final, along with Wolf, Forrest Fowler, Alex Rowlan, Ryan Watson and Jace Denker hit PK’s during the shootout.
Bentonville was Class 7A State runner-up last season and the Tigers are strong again this season.
"They were as physical as a team and I've ever played, I think," mentioned Hornets coach Jason Hay. "They did a good job. They knocked us off the ball several times, nothing dirty, just being physical, being a good soccer team.
"The first half, they had us pinned back and were just shelling us," he related. "I don't know how they didn't score."
The coach credited Rodarte who started the game in goal because of an injury to Jace Denker, the regular starter who was shaken up near the end of the Fayetteville match.
"He made some great saves," Hay said of Rodarte. "I don't know how he got us out of it the way he did. They had so many shots. We were lucky to escape. Bentonville is very good.
"We had a few," he noted. "We had a ball that bounced in front of one of our guys that should've been a goal and we didn't get it.
"So they had their chances and we held out," the coach reiterated. "We were dragging. We were tired obviously from the style of play. We had a talk at halftime and we got it fixed in the second half. We played a whole lot better. We started not just kicking the ball but possessing it, moving it around. It was a lot more even in the second half.
"I think a lot of it was, in the first half, they came out just blowing and going," Hay explained. "They looked like they had a little bit more pep in their step. We had a little bit harder second game than they did that morning and they were just taking it to us. We were working too hard. We were working harder not smarter. Guys, instead of defending, keeping the ball in front of us and passing people on, we were kind of trying to do too much as individuals. The second half, we settled down and starting passing people off in our zones like we're supposed to and just putting the ball on the ground. When panic sets in, it's easy to just start kicking the ball hard. You can't do that. It's got to be quick, on the ground, playing the feet where you can counter and move the ball. In the second half, we looked like we had more energy too. It looked like we had our second wind."
In the shootout, both teams hit the first PK's, then both missed their second.
"Both of them banged off the same post," Hay mentioned.
They matched each other until it was 4-4.
"Rodarte made a great save and bumped it out," Hay recounted. "Then Jesse stepped up and knocked it in."
"I was proud of the effort especially after the first half," stated the coach. "We were getting just shelled. It was not good. We looked like we kind of put our head down a little bit but the guys came back in the second half and fought.
"We played really good defense," he added. "We've just got to work on finishing."
That Friday morning fight was scoreless at the half.
"Fayetteville's good," Hay acknowledged. "We moved the ball around very well. Petey Alverio scored the goal off a corner. It was kind of a scrum in front of the goal and he got it in.
"We played pretty good against Fayetteville," he said. "About the last 10, 15, 20 minutes, we wer up 1-0 and we kind of did what we did against Searcy, started playing not to get beat. That's something that's going to come back and bite us if we don't correct it. I don't know why we do that. We talk about playing to win, about not worrying about getting beat, just playing to win. I guess they just want to win so bad, they get ahead and they're just afraid to mess it up. It's definitely something we've got to fix."
Still they held on for the win, thanks in large part to keeper Jace Denker who made a sparkling save in the final seconds. "It looked like the shot was going to the upper 90 but he bumped it to save us," Hay recounted. "But he landed on his shoulder wrong so he was hurt."
On Friday, against the Oklahoma City team, the Hornets had their opponents overmatched but still, it took them a while to get on the board.
"We had shot after shot after shot on goal," Hay said. "We just could not — we had one that looked like it rolled on the goal line. It came as close to going in as it could without scoring. I thought it had gone in but they ruled that it didn't."
It was 0-0 at the half then the Hornets finally broke through.
"It looked like we were playing a drill," Hay related. "We were in there half the field just passing the ball around. We played very well as far as moving the ball, possessing it like we've been working on. We just couldn't put it in. Finally, Justin Travis scored off a corner with an assist from Alverio. Then Forrest actually went up and scored from the back with an assist from Evan Caddy."
The Hornets face a showdown with rival Benton on the road on Monday, weather permitting. They then open 7A/6A-Central Conference play Thursday against Little Rock Central.
“Overall I think the girls had a much better showing than we did in the Harrison tournament,” commented Lady Hornets head coach Julie Long. “We are still focusing on getting better every game. I think the past two weekends have made us stronger as a team and we've had to bond and push through some walls. I'm glad these girls keep fighting. It helped us realize what things we need to fix before conference starts.”
The Lady Hornets’ most impressive outcome may have been Friday night against Norman, Okla. They took an early lead on a goal by Shelby Gartrell off an assist from Katie Moore. It was 1-0 at the intermission.
“The second goal was with about 15 minutes left,” Long recalled. “We had a free kick and London Abernathy was taking it. She saw Katie Moore unmarked and just passed her the ball and Katie took a one touch shot and it found the side net of the goal. It was pretty.
“The girls came out ready to play and they played very well,” the coach said. “I was proud of them for that game.”
Of the loss to conference-rival Conway, she said, “The girls played hard but lost to a very good team.”
Against Springdale, Shelby Gartrell scored both goals, one off an assist by Moore, the other off a throw-in by Rori Whittaker.
Looking ahead, Long said, “We play Benton tomorrow and that game is always fun just because its Benton!”