Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Everything goes all wrong for Cabot

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – Utter dejection and complete disbelief are about the only two ways to describe the Lady Panther soccer team’s feelings Friday evening. The score didn’t make sense, and didn’t match the game, but Bentonville walked away from the Class 7A state championship match at Razorback Field with a lopsided 4-0 victory. It was the Lady Tigers’ second-straight state championship, both championship wins against Cabot.

Last year, Bentonville won 3-0, and it was obvious the Lady Tigers made up the better team. This year, in an even worse blowout, the inexplicable fact is that the Lady Panthers outplayed their counterparts in every area, except efficiency.

Cabot nearly doubled the total number of shots, and more than doubled the shots on goal, but could not get a single one into the goal. Bentonville goalkeeper Madee East had a magnificent game, making several diving and daring saves, but Cabot also missed several that, in any other game this year, would have been chip shots.

The loss was hard enough to take, but Cabot coach Kerry Castillo feels even worse about the final score.

“That’s what makes me feel terrible for the girls,” said Castillo. “People who didn’t get to see it (the game) are going to look at that score and think Bentonville was just so much better than everybody else. And it’s all wrong. It’s just all wrong. We outplayed them from the opening second. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities, and we didn’t do that.”

Cabot had 13 shots, including 12 shots on goal. Bentonville had seven total shots, and five on goal. After dominating the first 35 minutes of the match, the first half ended disastrously for Cabot. The Lady Tigers began playing extremely aggressively after a few times getting beat down the field by Cabot’s three speedsters, Hadley Dickinson, Tristyn Edgar and Kiley Dulaney.

But shortly after Alexis Dang was pulled to the ground by a defender already on the ground, Bentonville was awarded the ball, and Victoria Mitchell almost scored with 8:29 left in the first half on just the team’s second shot of the game.

Cabot charged right back, and Edgar got in position for a clear shot, one-on-one with East with 6:45 left. But Bentonville’s Anna Passmore knocked her to the ground before she could make her kick, and the ball rolled harmlessly into East’s arms.

With 5:37 left in the half, Bentonville’s Madison Howard floated a corner kick over the defense where freshman Sydnee Suggs deflected it off her shin into the goal for a 1-0 Bentonville lead.

Just two minutes later, Bentonville leading scorer Lauren Hargus kicked a floating shot from 20 yards out right to left into the corner of the crossbar, and it deflected into the goal for a 2-0 lead.

Those two goals came after Cabot took seven shots in the first half. East made one extraordinary stop, fully extended and fully horizontal to keep Gracen Turner from scoring. East made two more incredible stops in the second half, twice racing out to meet Edgar and taking one shot in the gut and another off her face. The second one sent her out of the game for several minutes, and that’s when Cabot’s most debilitating misses came.

Turner had an open shot, one-on-one with the reserve goalkeeper, and kicked it right into her. Edgar had a clear shot she sent off the cross bar. Dulaney and Dickinson each had shots they hesitated on, allowing defenders to recover and help the goalkeeper.

The task seemed almost impossible at halftime. To win, Cabot had to score three goals in one half against a team that had only given up three total goals in 14 conference games and two playoff games combined.

They created more than enough opportunities, but missed them all.

“Good teams at every level are going to have games like that,” Castillo said. “I think by the time Hadley and Kiley got their chances, they were almost afraid of being the next one to miss. They were trying to turn a good shot into a certain shot. I just feel terrible for all of them because they know they did enough to win.”

Hope faded completely with 15 minutes to go, when, after all those Cabot misses, Bentonville got another goal that came out of nowhere on an improbable shot.

Hargus again scored from way out to make it 3-0.

The final goal came after another corner kick, and again it was Hargus who drilled a loose ball in for the hat trick.

The natural grass playing surface was wet and torn up from two days of games in the rain. Like Cabot, Bentonville plays almost all its regular season games on artificial turf, but Castillo still believes the playing conditions had a more adverse effect on his team because of its speed.

“We were clearly the much faster team,” Castillo said. “So it did nothing but help slow us down to something they’re more capable of dealing with. It was clear very early they had not answered for Hadley, so they went to a really aggressive style and started trying to take us off our feet before we could get turned. I think it (the condition) was definitely more beneficial to them. I don’t know, I can’t say for certain there would be a different outcome, but I’d sure like to find out. It was the same way last year.”

More evidence that it was just Bentonville’s day came after the game when Tiger coach Kristina Henry told reporters she didn’t think her team had scored off a corner kick all season.

“That’s just it,” Castillo said. “It was just their day I guess. Soccer can be cruel like that. You can be the better team on a given day and not get the win. It just happened to us on the worst day.”