NORTH LITTLE ROCK — After going 0-for-3 on PK’s in their first-place battle with the Conway Lady Wampus Cats on[more] Tuesday, the Bryant Lady Hornets did a little extra work on those shootout shots on Wednesday.
It paid off on Thursday.
Katie Moore, London Abernathy, Lexi Ballisterri and Rori Whittaker each made PK’s and keeper Kaitlyn Miller made two spectacular saves on PK’s by the Mount St. Mary Belles as the Lady Hornets bounced back from Tuesday’s win with a critical victory, 2-1, at Burns Park on Thursday.
The win clinched the second seed from the 7A/6A-Central Conference to the Class 7A State Tournament in Rogers, which opens Thursday, May 10. With second, the Lady Hornets gain a valuable first-round bye.
Now 16-4 overall and 10-2 in league play, Bryant plays at Cabot tonight before closing out the regular season at Bryant Stadium on Monday, May 7, against North Little Rock.
“We played like we’d just played Conway on Tuesday,” said Lady Hornets head coach Julie Long regarding Thursday’s contest. “This is a hard week for my girls. They’re playing the top three teams other than us in the conference and pretty much back-to-back. And coming off of the game against Conway with their bodies still trying to recover, we just kind of looked tired.
“Not taking anything away from Mount,” she added. “Mount came out and played us really, really hard. The girls really had to step up.”
The Belles scored first, about 15 minutes in. Bryant tied it just before the end of the half on a goal by Moore from about 30 yards out.
“We came out just really flat,” Long said, “kind of the whole game. But, when they scored, we picked it up and started playing pretty hard. We had a lot of opportunities.
“The second half, we came out really, really strong,” she noted. “We had ample opportunities, over and over again. Shelby (Gartrell) got fouled in the box so we got a PK.”
But she missed it.
“After that, she was going like crazy, trying to score, trying to make up for it,” Long related. “She had a one-v-one and the keeper came out and she twisted her ankle. We should have her back for State.”
Neither team could snap the deadlock in regulation, it went to the shootout.
With memories of Tuesday night fresh in mind, Long said, “I told my girls, ‘Listen, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m not going to pick you guys in order. If you want it, you take it.’
“If they want it that means they’re going to make it,” she continued. “So I just told them that was the new philosophy that we were going with and that’s what we did. Five of them said, ‘I want it.’ And they walked up there and didn’t miss one.”
Long acknowledged that it turned out to be the five players she would normally send out there.
Moore made the first one and Mount matched it. Abernathy got her shot to go then Miller made the first of her two saves. Balisterri found the net on the third try then Miller made another eye-popping save on Mount’s third try.
“She came up huge,” Long said. “The first save was beautiful but the second save was prettier than the first one. It was a good save, very impressive.”
Whittaker followed up with the clinching kick.
“They all stepped up and rose to the occasion,” Long mentioned. “I could tell. It was a completely different atmosphere than it was against Conway as far as just — I mean, they were frustrated anyway with the game so they knew. As soon as they stepped, I knew it was going to be okay.
“It takes a lot of character to bounce back from what they had just gone through on Tuesday,” the coach noted. “They put themselves in the exact same situation again and to have those same three come through that were the first three that missed against Conway, and that they wanted to do it, that they wanted to be there, it was a character check. They put everything into it. I was very pleased. It was hard-fought and we’re tired right now, you can tell.
“But we’ll do what we can do against Cabot and see how it goes, I guess. These girls are so competitive this year, they won’t back down, I can guarantee that. They’ll come out fired up and ready to play.”