Ray’s late PK provides the difference as Bryant secures bid to State

VAN BUREN — Hayden Ray scored on a penalty kick with less than three minutes left to play, snapping a 1-1 tie. The Bryant Hornets’ defense made that stand up and, with the 2-1 victory over the Van Buren Pointers at Blackmore Stadium on Tuesday night, they secured a bid to the Class 7A State Tournament to be held starting Thursday, May 12, at Springdale High School.

The Hornets improved to 13-6 overall, 5-4 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference and 2-3 against 7A teams in the league. They’ll finish up with a final contest against a 7A conference rival, Little Rock Catholic, which won a showdown against Conway 1-0 on Tuesday to gain the inside track for the league’s first-round bye at State.

The Hornets will likely open play at State on the opening day of the tournament at 2 p.m., against the fourth-seeded team from the 7A-West, probably Rogers, Northside or Har-Ber.

It figures to be an emotional night as the Hornets celebrate their seniors in their final home match but also head coach Jason Hay and assistant Clint Shadwick. Hay will continue to serve as assistant principal at Bethel Middle School, while Shadwick will begin work as an assistant principal at Bryant Middle School.

Against Van Buren, the Hornets fell behind 1-0 on a goal off a long cross.

“We let a guy cross our face,” mentioned Hay. “We can’t win big games with mistakes like that.”

The Hornets tied it 1-1 in the last five minutes of the first half when Andy Doonan drilled a shot off an assist from Jhorman Cruz.

“We played better towards the end of the first half,” Hay acknowledged. “We had over 20 shots but could not get one to fall.”

A hand ball inside the box by the Pointers in the 78th minute, with just 2:32 left in the match produced the penalty kick that Ray knocked through.

“The second half, we stepped it up but same problem of not getting one to fall,” Hay mentioned.

While limiting Van Buren to its one goal, the Hornets’ keeper Logan Valestin made four saves.

While acknowledging the emotion of Friday’s Senior Night, Hay said, “We will all need to focus to have a chance versus Catholic.”

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