SPRINGDALE — In a war befitting the champions of the last two Class 7A State girls soccer tournaments, the Bryant Lady Hornets and the Bentonville Lady Tigers played rugged scoreless soccer for 80 minutes and two 10-minute overtimes resulting a shootout of penalty kicks. The shootout went seven rounds before Bentonville gained the edge, 5-4, claiming the victory and advancing to the State championship game where the Lady Tigers will square of with Cabot, which knocked off Fayetteville, 3-2.
Bryant defeated Fayetteville for the 2015 championship after getting past Bentonville in the semifinals. In 2014, the Lady Tigers edged the Lady Hornets in the State title game.
And it was Bentonville’s turn again despite the incredible Bryant defense, which allowed just three goals in regulation play all season. It was their 19th shutout.
But the shootout loss was their first all year as they finish 20-1-1. It also completed a run of 82 wins, seven losses and four ties for the Bryant seniors who were 63-4-3 over the last three seasons.
It not only marked the end of their careers but also the tenure of head coach Julie Long who led the program to those heights.
“Bentonville’s good,” Long said. “They’re a good good team.
“You know Cabot won the other side and we beat them 3-0,” she noted. “I hope Cabot wins because they’ve got one of my former players (Hadley Dickinson, who played at Bryant prior to this year).”
As for Saturday’s match, Long said, “The girls played about as good as they could’ve played today,” the coach related. “Other than finishing a few chances, but Bentonville’s had a few they didn’t finish either. It was a battle. Both sides battled constantly.
“My keeper, Brittney Warner played a phenomenal game, my defense played a phenomenal game,” she emphasized. “To hold a team like that 0-0 for 100 minutes, that’s impressive in itself. Brittney had two big saves on PK’s and we had a chance to win it. I thought we were going to.”
In the shootout, Caroline Campbell converted Bryant’s first PK. Peyton Ramsey hit the second one.
“Their first girl went and Brittney saved it,” Long recounted. “That was huge. That immediately got Bentonville’s down because they went first.”
Kara Moser was third for Bryant but her shot went over the crossbar. Kendall Selig made the fourth shot and Britney Sahlmann found the back of the net on the fifth try.
“Then Brittney had another big save,” Long said. “They didn’t miss any but Brittney saved those two.”
So the Lady Hornets were in position to win it. Sarah Kennedy took her turn for Bryant.
“I don’t think Sarah has missed a PK all season in practice,” Long said. “She was up and I was like, ‘There’s no way she’s missing this.’ She didn’t mess up but the keeper made a save.”
In turn, Bentonville’s got their PK to go putting the pressure on Kayla Dreher for Bryant, seven deep into the shootout.
“That’s pretty amazing,” Long stated. “It’s a tough pill to swallow whenever you go that deep and that far.
“I’m so proud of the girls and the season they had,” she reflected. “After the game, I told them, to don’t get their heads down. The ones that missed the PKs were pretty upset about it but when it comes down to that — I mean, that’s just a crappy way for a soccer game to end. But there’s got to be some sort of tiebreaker for it. They don’t want it to go on forever.
“I’d say if we played (Bentonville) 10 times, we’d probably end up 5-5,” the coach said. “That’s how evenly matched we were.”
Long said it took a while for the Lady Hornets to get settled initially.
“The first half, we were a little shaken up and didn’t play very well,” she said. “The second half and both overtimes, I felt like we kept control of the ball most of the time. We had a few more opportunities than they did, especially the overtime. We had one big opportunity and we didn’t finish it.
“Anna (Lowery) had a big breakaway in the second half,” the coach noted. “She tried to beat the keeper and the keeper got it.”
Lowery, a senior who has been a key offensive player for Bryant for four years, was injured early in the second overtime.
“She went back in late in the second overtime but she wasn’t 100 percent,” Long said. “She didn’t even take a PK.”