MURFREESBORO — A late offensive eruption was enough to net Bearden High School boys soccer team the Class AAA State Championship Friday afternoon.
After falling behind 2-1, the Bulldogs scored four unanswered goals to notch a 5-2 comeback win over Ravenwood before a boisterous crowd at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro.
The championship was Bearden’s first since 2006 and culminated Bearden’s first trip to the Spring Fling since 2012.
“What can you say about these boys?” Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “They wanted this state championship.”
Radcliffe played on Bearden’s last state championship team and was emotional after the final victory of the season.
“This is a fantastic group of boys,” he said. “I told them that I wanted them to beat me and set a new precedent.
“I told this group, I want you all to beat me and be one of the greatest teams in Bearden history.”
BHS wrote that final chapter Friday but it all started back in February.
“This is a dream come true,” said Alvarez, who closed out his high school career with a hat trick against the Raptors. “This was a great team effort for us. It takes 11 to win.
“I’m just thankful for my family, my teammates and my coaches. We knew that we had the heart to win this. If you ask me, heart beats talent 10 times out of 10.”
The Bulldogs won the District 4-AAA regular-season title before going on to capture the tournament championship. Bearden then went on to win the Region 2-AAA tournament with a 4-1 victory over Oak Ridge. It was tested one more time in the state sectional where it prevailed 2-0 against Sevier County.
Upon arriving in Murfreesboro, the Bulldogs breezed past Collierville in the quarterfinals 3-0. Bearden (23-3) got goals from three of its senior forwards. Gabe Alvarez scored the first off an assist from Will Lewis while Kelvin Garcia and Spencer Smiley added unassisted markers.
That would prove to be the last easy task for the Bulldogs in the Midstate. Bearden culminated its stay by hoisting the Class AAA Championship plaque, but the Bulldogs had to work extremely hard to earn that hardware.
The Bulldogs fell behind the Raptors (12-4-3) early Friday when senior forward Jake Hill converted a short free kick just 1 minute, 9 seconds into the match.
Bearden would answer when Alvarez took a pass from
Kelvin Garcia and bang it past Ravenwood goalkeeper Jack Hyatt in the 15th minute to knot the game 1-1. The Raptors regained the lead when Greyson Heatherington tallied an unassisted marker in the 29th minute. That gave Ravenwood the 2-1 advantage that it enjoyed at halftime.
Alvarez said that the Bulldogs didn’t panic despite trailing for much of the first half.
“We just needed to respond well,” he said.
Lewis knotted the game 2-2 when he banged in a rebound that ricocheted off a Raptors defender in the 44th minute.
“They came out strong,” Lewis said of the Raptors. “But we stuck together and we were able to come out on top. We have three outstanding senior forwards and we couldn’t have done this without them. We couldn’t have done it without each other.
“Today, we showed how strong of a bond that we have.”
Bearden took its first lead of the match when Alvarez scored in the 62nd minute. From there, the Bulldogs weren’t tested again. Bearden outshot the Raptors 10-1 over the final 40 minutes.
The Bulldogs also got stellar effort from defender Lucas Lavender, who blocked numerous Ravenwood shots.
“Lucas did a great job in the back,” Radcliffe said. “He’s a converted forward and he’s really done well back there.”
Kelvin Garcia put the game away when he made the score 4-2 in the 79th minute and Alvarez finished his hat trick a short time later.
Senior captain Jameson Elmore dedicated the win to Linda Radcliffe (Ryan’s mother and a longtime pillar in both the boys and girls program), who is battling cancer.
“Right now, I just want to dedicate this to Mama Rad,” Elmore said. “I have to credit the coaches. They told us just to stay calm and have fun playing.
“Coach Radcliffe is the perfect coach for this team.”
Fellow senior Alex Garcia agreed.
“It feels great to win this,” he said. “We came out and we played for Mama Rad.
“This feels great now but I know that it will feel just as good in 20 years because I’ll have a big ring to remind me about all of this. I’m just happy to be a part of this.”
Senior Jonathan Duffy, who also played football for the Bulldogs, was happy to win the ultimate prize.
“I said coming into my senior year that I wanted a state championship in football or soccer and now I have one,” Duffy said. “I decided that I wanted to win one four years ago when I came to high school.
“We had to work for this and
it’s amazing just to get out of our district.”
The Bulldogs advanced to the title match with a 4-1 overtime win over Station Camp, which took an early lead.
Elmore tied things in the 62nd minute before Alvarez scored twice in extra time. Kelvin Garcia had a goal and an assist in the overtime frames.
The semifinal match was delayed by lightning and coach Radcliffe said that provided yet another challenge.
“We had to get on the bus and while we were waiting, I was thinking about a pep talk to give them,” he said. “Then, I looked into their eyes and saw that I didn’t have to say anything.”