Bulldogs return to state tournament

KNOXVILLE — A one-time regular at the Spring Fling will make a return to the Class AAA State Soccer Tournament.

Bearden High School punched its ticket to Murfreesboro with a 2-0 victory over Sevier County Saturday night at Bruce Allender Field.

The victory over the Smoky Bears (19-3-1) clinched the first state bid for the Bulldogs since 2012. Bearden last brought home a State Championship in 2006 when coach Ryan Radcliffe was a player.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever made it to the state and it’s a great feeling,” said Kelvin Garcia, who scored Bearden’s first goal against Sevier County. “We gave it 110 percent tonight.”

The Bulldogs (20-3) may have won a Section 1-AAA match against a squad that made its first sectional appearance but Sevier County goalkeeper Jon Rumple made things extremely difficult for Bearden, which struggled with its shooting touch throughout the match.

“They’re keeper made some tremendous saves,” Radcliffe said. “He was great.

“I don’t know what the final shot count was but I know he made some tremendous saves. I thought this game was kind of like the Maryville game [the District 4-AAA Championship match earlier this month] when we just had to grind it out. We were able to grind it out.”

Garcia gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute. From there, Rumple was able to help keep the Smoky Bears within striking distance.

“He kept us in the game,” Sevier County coach Bryan Atchley said of Rumple. “He was amazing for us and he had some great saves.”

Atchley, the longtime SCHS head coach might’ve left the pitch on the losing end but had some huge accolades for his squad, which had its best season in school history.

“We had a great year,” Atchley said. “We won the district championship and we won the district tournament championship and we made it here for the first time in school history.

“Bearden used to be in our district and I’ve [coached] down here several times. I told the kids before the game that I first came here 11 years ago and I lost 7-1. We wanted to come here tonight and proved that we belonged on this field with them. I think we did that. We made great strides this year. Hopefully, we’ll be back again.”

Garcia commended Rumple’s effort between the goalposts.

“He played a great game.”

After surrendering the early goal, Rumple and the Sevier County defense kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard despite the fact that Bearden controlled the tempo and held a territorial advantage.

“Sevier County played a great game,” said BHS senior forward Gabe Alvarez, who extended his side’s advantage to 2-0 with a marker in the 78th minute. “They played with a lot of heart. They played with so much heart.

“It’s just a shame that one of us had to go home after tonight.”

Alvarez, one of Bearden’s most potent offensive weapons, said he’s happy to be closing out his high school career on the state’s grand stage.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever made it to state,” he said. “This feels great.

“It feels great because Sevier County gave us such a great game. This is what we’ve worked for all year.”

Bearden junior netminder Randal Bishop was able to preserve his shutout with a pair of stellar saves in the match’s waning moments. But he credited his teammates for helping him make his first trip to Murfreesboro.

“We really came together as a team this year,” Bishop said.

“We did really well. This was the biggest game of my life and I’m excited for state.”

Bearden claimed the region 2-AAA Championship with a 4-1 win over Oak Ridge. Spencer Smiley and Alvarez each had two goals in that victory for the Bulldogs.