FAYETTEVILLE — As the cliche goes, the third time was the charm for the Bryant Lady Hornets as they beat Conway 2-1 Friday at Razorback Field in Fayetteville.
The two teams matched up twice in the regular season as the Lady Cats handed Bryant its lone two losses on the season with Conway winning 1-1 in a shootout, scoring five goals to the Lady Hornets’ 4.
Then, the Lady Cats beat Bryant in the final regular season matchup 3-2.
This time, it was the Lady Hornets that prevailed with a strong first half that featured all the scoring the match would see.
It took Bryant just four minutes to notch the first goal on the scoreboard when senior Alyssa Fason scored in the left side of the net on an assist from sophomore Ashton Inman.
“Conway has a great team and we knew that,” Bryant coach Nicole Inman said. “They, honestly, had more pressure on them because they won two games against us previously. And, we had nothing to lose. I told the girls that if we come out and win the first five minutes, we have a good shot to win this game. We won the first five minutes and then we continued to play hard. It’s hard to play when it’s hot compared to the cold, rainy weather we had last weekend. But, I’m pleased with how our team came out and worked hard throughout.”
Indeed, mid-80 degree weather in Fayetteville was a stark contrast from last weekend’s cold, rainy weather in the 6A State Tournament in Conway.
Conway had a couple more opportunities to push the ball in net, but nothing went through until junior Kailyn Pavatt scored from about 22 yards out on a free kick that went in the top left of the net in the 20th minute, tying the game at one.
Shortly, Fason locked up her much deserved MVP award when she scored the go-ahead goal in the 14th minute of the match on a penalty kick, leading to a 2-1 score with 16:31 left in the first half.
Both teams continued to battle back and forth but there was nothing doing.
Conway had it’s best chance to tie it up again in the first half when Pavatt kicked again from about 22 yards out — this time on the opposite side of the field — but her shot went high and Bryant sophomore keeper Addison Funk was able to reach up and block the shot, pushing the ball over the goal.
For much of the second half, it was a battle of position as neither team could get much toward the net, but a corner kick gave Conway perhaps their best chance to tie in the entire match in the 65th minute when Pavatt sent the kick into her Lady Cat teammates.
Freshman Tristyn Pavatt received the ball and turned around to shoot with a good window, but her attempt was stopped by a nearby Lady Hornet defender.
Off the rebound, sophomore Hope Chagnon returned the shot at goal but her attempt went right, leading to a sigh of relief for the Bryant team and fans.
The Lady Hornet defense came on strong for the remainder of the match and tried to control the ball as the clock slowly ticked toward triple zero.
As it inched closer, fans were counting down with the clock until the Bryant team stormed the field with the championship.
If Conway can hang its hat on anything, it’s that Bryant was in the same spot last year — losing in the state championship game with a young roster. Conway has eight seniors.
Inman stressed that she had a good feeling about getting to raise the trophy at season’s end this year as opposed to the heartache to last season coming up short.
“Last year, the seniors and older upperclassmen were a little bit sad, but we’ve gone through a lot of changes the last couple of years so last year was kind of a stepping stone for us,” she said. “We didn’t really have many seniors that played except for our keeper and I knew I had a good keeper coming so I had a lot of confidence that we could get back here.”
Thus, Conway's lengthy 16-game winning streak was snapped as Bryant captured its first state title since 2015.
While the road home may be tough for the Lady Cats, they could be next year’s Bryant.