Friday, May 11, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan thrills in early rounds

Leader sportswriter

A dominant second half lifted the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears to a 5-2 first-round victory over Nettleton at the 5A state soccer tournament at Burns Park on Tuesday.

The Lady Bears (17-4-3) gave up two goals in the first half before shutting down the Lady Raiders, who came into the tournament as the No. 4 seed out of the 5A East Conference.

Sophomore forward Abi Persson turned in a hat-trick performance with both Sylvan Hills goals in the first half and her third midway through the second half. By that time, fellow sophomore forward Calyn Fulton had given the lead back to the Lady Bears with an early second-half goal, while freshman Sarah Beckwith set the final margin in the 20th minute with a line-drive shot from close range.

“I’m not sure what the difference was, because they were playing just as hard,” Sylvan Hills coach Nate Persson said. “They were playing very well, but our main stars got through more. They were playing off of them just a little more, and so they got the opportunities.”

Nettleton struck early when forward Tia Jones broke through the defense and scored in the third minute of the first half. Abi Persson tied the game at the 10-minute mark of the first half with a 20-yard kick that sailed high and just inside the crossbar. Lady Raiders goalkeeper Maddie Shown was in position but out of reach, as Persson’s shot tied the game at 1-1.

Persson gave the Lady Bears the lead for the first time on a penalty kick at the 12th minute, this time with a low shot into the right corner.

Jones tied the game back up for Nettleton just before the half, but the Lady Bears proved their superiority early in the second half with a play that stunned the Lady Raiders’ defense.

Persson attacked the goal and crossed the ball at the last minute as Fulton charged at full speed, timing her surge perfectly to head the ball past Shown, who made a solid play on the ball despite getting beat badly.

“That was a big-time play off a set piece from the side,” Nate Persson said. “Abi crossed it in, and K.K. anticipated it just perfect, went behind the defense and headed it over the goalie – that’s quality play there. The goalie did right coming out, she just got there a split second early and knocked it in.”

Fulton’s goal proved to be the momentum changer, as shots on goal became more frequent for the Lady Bears. Fulton was just off on two other attempts before Persson made it 4-2 with a crossing kick to the left at the 16th minute.

Beckwith’s goal was an easy look as Shown fell trying to set up for the block, giving Beckwith a free shot.

She took advantage with a solid delivery that landed in the middle of the net.

Despite coming in as a No. 4 seed to take on the top-seeded Lady Bears, Nettleton hung tough and matched Sylvan Hills through one half of play, and continued to battle in the second half after falling behind.

“I was very impressed with Nettleton,” Nate Persson said. “And to tell you the truth, I underestimated them, and I had lots of plans going on that didn’t materialize as far as resting my people. At halftime, I had to say forget about all this resting, we’re in a dogfight.”

The Lady Bears advanced to play Central Arkansas Christian in the quarterfinal round. The Lady Mustangs, the No. 2 seed out of the 5A Southwest Conference, defeated West No. 3 seed Greenwood 1-0 in the first round.