Tuesday, April 08, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills splits with HS Lakeside

Leader sportswriter

Four goals by senior standout Abigail Persson led the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears’ soccer team to a 5-2 nonconference win over Hot Springs Lakeside on Monday at Bill Blackwood Field in Sherwood.

The Lady Bears got the win by scoring four of their five goals in the first half of play, and by holding the Lady Rams scoreless in the last 40 minutes of game play.

“Hot Springs Lakeside, traditionally, always has a great team,” said Lady Bears’ coach Nate Persson. “Right now, they’re easily going to be the No. 1 seed out of the South Conference. So we’re really pleased with how we stacked up.

“We understand that Abi’s going to have somewhat of an advantage because she’s a senior and four-time All-State player and everything like that, but what I’m most pleased about is our other kids stepped up and played pretty much equal against a very, very good team. And that’s exciting to see that the training is paying off.”

Persson scored the first goal of the game at the 37:28 mark of the first half, and gave Sylvan Hills a 2-0 lead with another goal, this one with 23:18 left in the opening half. Less than five minutes later, the Lady Bears took a 3-0 lead on another goal by Persson with an assist coming from her younger sister.

Freshman Grace Persson delivered a corner kick that Abigail Persson headed in from about five yards out, which gave the Lady Bears the three-score lead with 18:42 left in the opening half. Toward the end of the half, Lakeside scored its two goals, but Abigail Persson added her fourth of the game with 2:50 remaining, which gave the host team a 4-2 halftime lead.

Coach Nate Persson moved his star player to midfield for the majority of the second half in order to provide a defensive spark, and it worked as the Lady Rams (4-3, 2-0) failed to score again. It wasn’t just her, though, that made key plays on defense.

Senior goalkeeper Courtney Boutte finished the game with 15 saves, four of which came in the second half. Boutte had several key stops in the first 40 minutes of play that drew plenty of praise from her head coach.

“She’s a wonderful keeper,” Nate Persson said. “The first half was when she had the sun directly in her eyes, and they (Lakeside) have great forwards. They train them to attack the ball and the goalie. So the times she made the saves she had great pressure on her. I’m very pleased with our keeper.”

The only goal of the second half was scored with 11:28 remaining and came off the foot of senior midfielder Rachel Franco. Abigail Persson first took a shot that bounced off the Lady Rams’ goalkeeper, and Franco was there for the putback. With her left foot, she booted the ball in from about 10 yards out, setting the final score.

The boys’ game was about as exciting, but was a defensive battle the whole way. The Bears battled to the very end with the 8-1 Rams, but fell just short in the end, losing the nonconference matchup 1-0.

That game also included outstanding goalkeeping by the host team as junior James Waller was dominant at keeping the Rams at bay. The Bears just couldn’t overcome the Rams’ stellar defense, and Lakeside (8-1, 2-0) finally broke the scoreless game with 5:16 to play on a goal by senior midfielder Evan Munro.

Sylvan Hills did everything it could to match the goal scored, but could never break through. Still, it was a solid nonconference test that can only benefit the Bears as they resume their conference schedule.

“We’ve had a really, really tough nonconference schedule,” said Bears’ coach Sam Persson. “The last couple of conference games we really haven’t had much competition. Tonight it was really important for us to get a good nonconference game, treat it like a conference game, and let’s see where we’re at.

“I was real pleased. We had J.T. (Justin Espejo) go out early in the game with a quad injury and Philip (Wood), who’s really one of the heart and soul guys of our team, go out in the middle of the second half. It was going to be a challenge to see when the guys came off the bench if they were going to be ready to represent the team, and I was really impressed with that tonight.”

The Bears, 4-0 in league play, and Lady Bears, 9-1, 4-0, will resume 5A-Central play tomorrow at Little Rock Christian.

Both games are expected to be highly competitive and will have conference and playoff seeding implications on the line. The Lady Bears will play the first game at approximately 5 p.m.