Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SPORTS >> Searcy claims fifth state soccer title

Leader sportswriter

Searcy survived a tense defensive struggle to beat Russellville 1-0 and claim its fifth straight soccer championship at Fayetteville’s Razorback Field on Saturday.

Junior center-midfielder Manuel Ruiz passed to sophomore forward Cam Woodruff for the game’s only goal in the ninth minute of the second half on Woodruff’s straight-ahead shot from 10 yards out.

Russellville double-teamed Searcy senior forward Steven Seitz, allowing Woodruff to exploit an open lane. Seitz nearly got the Lions’ first score in the final minute of the first half but Cyclones goalkeeper Martin Acosta made a save.

The Lions started to build offensive momentum late in the first half, but it was a defensive adjustment early in the second half that proved to be the difference for Searcy (20-1).

“We wanted to press and make a charge, but things weren’t happening,” Searcy coach Bronco King said. “So I subbed in an extra defender, and we went back to our old familiar format with four back and two up top.

“Up to that point, it had been a defensive struggle, but about two minutes later is when we were able to score.”

Searcy’s five straight titles tie the program with Harrison for most consecutive state championship victories.

Russellville, though thought of as the underdog, proved to be a formidable adversary for Searcy when the Lions took a 3-1 victory over the Cyclones (16-6-2) in a non-conference match in April.

The mid-season meeting made an impression on King, who now has three state championships in three seasons as coach.

“It did cross my mind,” King said of a potential rematch with Russellville in the final. “I knew they looked good the first time we played them, and I told the guys not to be surprised if we saw them again on down the road.

“I think they kept that in mind. The guys knew they were going to have to play hard.”

Seitz and senior team captain Isai Garcia also became a part of state soccer history as four-year starters on four state championship teams.

Seitz, Searcy’s leading scorer the past two seasons, and Garcia, the Lions’ versatile center midfielder, began their careers as freshmen under former coach Jeff Davis, and have both played in the last four 6A state championship games. Garcia was named MVP on Saturday.

“It’s real special for those guys,” King said. “The main thing that was different for them this year was that we were playing somebody different. It was a harder task to achieve.”

Searcy’s four previous titles came with victories over conference foes Jonesboro and Mountain Home.

“If I’m quoting Steven right, he said it’s one of the things that will stick out the most over these past four years to him,” King said of the hard-fought victory over Russellville.

Seitz and Garcia are part of a group of 11 departing seniors, but with 13 juniors, nine freshmen who were contributors this year and another group of talented freshmen moving up next year, Searcy has a chance to edge Harrison for the consecutive state-titles mark.

King anticipates a group of 50-60 underclassmen will report for tryouts next week.

“I got to looking, and we’re losing 11,” King said. “But we have nine or 10 guys coming back that got to see a lot of playing time this year, so we’ve got a little experience coming back.

“Plus, I anticipate a lot of younger guys coming in. Hopefully, we’ll have another group that can go out and break that record next year.”