Bearden wins title despite shooting woes

KNOXVILLE — Despite struggling to find its shooting touch, the Bearden High School

boys soccer team managed to manufacture enough offense

to capture the 2016 District 4-AAA Tournament Championship Saturday night.

The Bulldogs, which won the regular-season title, hit the goalposts or the crossbar five times in a 1-0 victory over second-seeded Maryville at Bruce Allender Field.

“I guess we’re going to need wider goals,” Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “We hit the crossbar a lot and we could’ve gotten frustrated but we kept going at it.

“That shows the maturity of our team. We could’ve hung our heads and given up. But our kids didn’t.”

The Red Rebels (14-5-2) sustained some early pressure and fired the first two shots of the match. Bearden, thanks to the stellar early effort of junior goalkeeper Randall Bishop.

Bishop faced and stopped the first two shots of the match before the Bulldogs (17-3) turned up the heat on Maryville’s defense and Red Rebels senior netminder Ben Smith.

“Bearden played a great game,” Red Rebels coach Steve Feather said. “They’re just so quick.”

The Bulldogs created several scoring opportunities. But Smith made some stops and got some help from the goal frame.

“I really thought we would get more [goals], Bearden junior midfielder T.J. Seaman said. “We hit the posts several times but when we hit the posts, I think it really gave us the confidence that we needed.

“When we hit the posts, we knew we could get shots against them. We’re confident but Maryville is a great team and I bet we’ll see them again [in Thursday’s Region 2-AAA Championship match].”

The Bulldogs, which struggled with shooting accuracy throughout the opening 40 minutes, finally got on the board in the 16th minute when senior forward Gabe Alvarez fielded a pass from Seaman and banged it past Smith and into the back of the Maryville net from 25 yards out.

Bearden tallied its lone marker of the match from long range but the Bulldogs misfired on several shots from point-blank range as the ball often sailed over the top or went wide.

“It [the goal] was from about 25 yards,” Alvarez said.

That marker was enough to enable the Bulldogs to capture a second victory over the Red Rebels and claim the district championship. Bearden won the regular-season match between the two sides. The Bulldogs notched a hard-fought 4-3 win in Blount County on April 14.

Alvarez said that the earlier game against Maryville served as a bit of a wakeup call.

“I told the team before the game that we really needed to win this game,” he said. “Nothing is ever easy in this district. This is the district of death

“Going forward, we can take nothing lightly.”

Bearden had already advanced to the Region 2-AAA Tournament by virtue of its regular-season championship but Seaman said that Saturday night’s win was huge for the Bulldogs.

“This was big for us because it gives us home field throughout [the region tournament],” he said. “It’s been a long time since Bearden has won a district championship and this feels really great for us.”

Region 2-AAA Tournament play opened Tuesday with elimination games. Bearden hosted District 3-AAA runner-up Halls and Maryville invaded Oak Ridge. Results were not available at press time.