The anticipation and excitement leading up to the meeting of crosstown rivals Bradley Central and Cleveland on the soccer pitch surely lived up to the hype Tuesday evening.
After taking a one-goal lead over the Lady Raiders, the Bearettes found themselves on the wrong side of back-to-back goals as the girls in Raider Blue were ultimately able to get a 3-2 win over the Black-and-Gold.
“The girls stuck it out, we got the win and haven’t been shut out, that’s all I can say. This field presents an opportunity to play a different, challenging style of soccer. I love coming out and playing here, even if it gives me some grey hairs,” Cleveland head coach Andy Byrd said. “I’m glad that Chrissy McKinney has come back to Bradley soccer and gotten them back on their feet again.”
For Bradley head coach Chrissy McKinney, the rivalry between the two local schools is a positive thing.
“I think that anytime you compare scores with other teams in your district this kind of thing can make you happy. At the same time, every game is different,” McKinney stated. “We have a lot of rivalry that stirs through this game, which definitely helps. It’s a positive thing, a positive rivalry. It’s good for our athletes to have the support from our school.”
The Lady Raiders, who are currently 3-0 in the district, and the Bearettes will have a short turnaround time, as both teams continue District 5-AAA play on Thursday.
While Bradley will venture north to Athens for a battle with McMinn County at 6, Cleveland will head south to take on East Hamilton at 5:30.
“You celebrate for about 30 seconds and then you start preparing for the next one. We’ve got 48 hours to recover and practice for our next district game on Thursday at East Hamilton,” Byrd said.
Sohara Perez, with an assist from Lorne Conn, got Cleveland on the board just one minute into play, only to see Bradley’s scoring machine Caley Jones got her 15th goal of the season to tie things up not even 30 seconds later.
“We came out strong and they answered right back, so hats off to Caley and company. It comes down to the bottom line of at the end of the game what can we do to finish, and we were knocking,” Byrd commented.
Tying things up so quickly, according to McKinney, gave the Bearettes an added boost.
“Leveling it out again gave us the game back and the possibility of continuing on. It’s real easy to get down when you stay down for a long time, so the immediate response is super important,” McKinney said. “I was really proud that we were able to get back in it.”
After each squad’s initial goal the match became an intense back-and-forth battle for the remainder of the first half, but no more goals were to be scored.
“It seems like we’re doing great things at the wrong time. Our timing was a bit off-kilter tonight,” Byrd stated.
Monse Rincon was able to give the Bearettes a 2-1 lead over the Lady Raiders a little over three minutes into the second half.
The standout efforts of goalkeeper Lydia Brown, who blocked a total of 27 shots, and other Bearettes maintained their one-goal lead up until the final minutes of play.
“Lydia was huge for us tonight. I feel like her, Monse, Caley and Haley were vital parts of what we did,” McKinney declared. “Megan Howell continued defending for us despite an injury.”
McKenzie Harris, with an assist from Kendall Hamilton, was able to even things up with a little over four minutes remaining in the match.
Moments later Sam DeBien, who was assisted by Perez, notched the go-ahead goal for Cleveland.
“They got through with a fast girl on our weak side. There was a little lack of communication,” McKinney explained. “I think that Caley going down with an injury on the side really messed up our rhythm. Anytime that someone goes down, that hits the players on that team. Cleveland got to regroup and counterattack immediately — they took it right there. The biggest thing is learning to decide to finish. It’s a decision to complete — you have the ability to compete, but you have to make the decision to complete.”
Despite the comeback win, coach Byrd knows that his team also needs to improve on its ability to finish the game.
“I think one of our weaknesses right now is finding the last player to finish. That takes a lot of experience but at the same time it takes receptive learners. Fortunately I have a group of receptive learners,” Byrd stated. “At some points I found us to be lucky, but at the same time the hard work and quality practices and coaching has paid off. My assistant Cassie Cantrell has been working both ends of the day for these kids and her family.”
Tuesday’s match was expected to be a tough one. Byrd warned his team that they would be in for a battle on the pitch.
“I told the girls that every time you play Bradley it’s going to be a close battle. Regardless of everything on the scoreboard, you saw a nice battle of us playing our Bradley sisters. They did everything they could do to take care of business, but we ended up on the brighter side of things tonight,” Byrd commented.
LADY RAIDERS 3, BEARETTES 2
Halftime score: 1-1. Goals: Caley Jones, Monse Rincon (BC); Sohara Perez, McKenzie Harris, Sam DeBien (C). Assists: Lorne Conn, Perez, Kendall Hamilton (C). Record: Cleveland 6-3, 3-0 District 5-AAA; Bradley Central 5-4, 0-3 District 5-AAA.