Siloam Springs assistant soccer coach Abby Ray's pregame pep talk was all Laura Morales needed to hear Saturday.
Morales, a junior attacking midfielder, scored her second hat trick of the season and senior Megan Hutto added two goals and two assists as Siloam Springs defeated Benton 5-2 in the 6A-West Conference championship at Panther Stadium.
"I was really pumped and excited about things this morning," Morales said. "We always have this speech that Coach Ray gives us. I always find them very inspiring and very motivating."
Morales didn't remember the specifics about Ray's speech, but "she always tells us to go out with no regrets and that's what we always say."
Morales took that motivation to the field, scoring Siloam Springs' first three goals of the afternoon.
After a couple of close calls, Morales gave Siloam Springs a 1-0 lead with 13 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half when she took a through ball from Shelby Johnson and ripped a rocket shot past Benton goalkeeper Jayme Selph.
Siloam Springs carried the 1-0 lead into the second half, and Morales made it 2-0 with 34:06 left in the game.
Senior Brooklyn Buckminster threw a ball in deep in Benton territory to Megan Hutto, who dribbled into the box and found an open Morales for the goal.
Hutto assisted on another Morales goal with 30:08 left for a 3-0 Siloam Springs lead and her 21st goal of the season, which ranks second on the team.
"We've been trying to find ways to get (Morales) attacking with Megan (Hutto), because Megan's sometimes up there by herself and we've worked on that," said Siloam Springs coach Brent Crenshaw. "It's showed all year. She's got quite a few goals from an attacking center-mid position. I'm happy for her. A hat trick is always fun. I just tell her to go out there and run around and go score. We don't ask her to do a whole lot. We just want her to go be a soccer player."
Benton (14-4) tightened things up at 3-1 with 28:13 left in the game when Madison McVey scored off a Julia Dick corner kick.
Siloam Springs got the goal back when Hutto scored off a Shelby Johnson assist with 24:29 left for a 4-1 Siloam Springs lead.
Hutto and Johnson connected again with 8:49 left in the game for a 5-1 lead and Hutto's team-leading 26th goal. The assist was Johnson's 11th, which ranks second on the team behind Hutto's 19 assists.
"Benton wore down and at halftime we talked about we don't have to play through balls constantly because they weren't really pressuring us," Crenshaw said. "So if we could just possess the ball and make a couple of passes, then they step and then play a through ball, that's what we did the second half. It was a track meet the first half. It was just up and down and up and down. So we got into the second half and we were able to pass the ball around and create chances."
Dick scored on a penalty kick with 3:43 left in the game to set the final score.
Benton will be the No. 2 seed out of the 6A-West in this week's upcoming Class 6A State Tournament in Russellville.
"We just got caught out of position a couple of times, and that's going to happen against a good team," Benton coach Jason Gentry said. "They're going to take advantage when you're playing a team like Siloam. They're finishers. Hopefully we're going to see them again in a couple of weeks and we can correct some of those mistakes."
Siloam Springs (19-3-2) will be the No. 1 seed after winning its second straight 6A-West title.
"I'm proud of them," Crenshaw said. "They finished well. They played well. It was good to have (Meghan) Kennedy back there in the starting lineup. Hutto and Laura really did well. Shelby did really well. But you know I knew they would probably come out well. No offense to other schools -- but when there's good competition they come out and they play harder. The last couple of weeks we really haven't been challenged a whole lot. I think they know now the next couple of weeks they're going to be challenged quite a bit."
Crenshaw agreed that Siloam Springs could see Benton again during the state tournament
"They're a very good team," Crenshaw said. "They fought hard. They've got some good players on that team. Our girls have been up for the challenge."
Crenshaw credited Siloam Springs freshman Madison Race for locking down defensively on Benton forward Emma Selph.
"We look up at the field and how many freshman did we have out there?" Crenshaw said. "We had quite a few. Maddie Race did an outstanding job marking their right forward (Emma Selph), who I think was their right player. Maddie won that battle for us tonight."
The four-time defending state champion Siloam Springs will now turn its attention to their next game, which will be Friday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A State Tournament. Siloam Springs, which received an opening round bye, will play the winner of Thursday's game between West No. 5 seed Russellville and East No. 4 Marion.
"There's no favorites I think when you get into the state tournament," Crenshaw said. "Anything can happen. We've got to take it -- it's cliche -- one game at a time. Who do we have Friday? That's what we need to focus on right now. If we play our best soccer I'll like our chances. We can't look past anybody."Sports on 05/09/2018
Print Headline: Morales' hat trick lifts Lady Panthers to win