RUSSELLVILLE -- Four-time defending state 6A champion Siloam Springs was reeling against Russellville in the second half Friday, but a freshman came to the Lady Panthers' rescue.
Trailing 1-0 as the clocked ticked toward midway through the second half, the Lady Panthers moved freshman defender Madison Race up into the attack in hopes of sparking some offense against the tournament host Lady Cyclones.
Race responded by giving Siloam Springs some energy, and her efforts played a large role in the No. 1 seed Lady Panthers rallying for a 2-1 victory at Cyclone Stadium.
Race almost immediately put pressure on Russellville's defense with a shot that was saved. Her next trip down the field, she went in hard for a ball with Russellville's keeper, Bailey McGill, who made another save.
But this time the ball bounced back to senior Megan Hutto who tied the game 1-1 with 22:11 left. Hutto would go on to score the game-winner nearly 10 minutes later for the Lady Panthers, but the talk after the game was the jolt Race gave Siloam Springs.
"Maddie Race, she's a natural forward," said Siloam Springs coach Brent Crenshaw. "We've had to play her on defense this year, just trying to fill in some spots. She does a really good job defending one-on-one, but with 20 minutes left, we just couldn't get any pressure on them. We weren't creating a whole lot. I figured she likes to run, she's fast, she's aggressive. Put her up top, and she changed the game. She changed the whole momentum from the game."
Hutto, who scored her 27th and 28th goals of the season, was impressed with what the freshman did.
"She's always been a hustler," Hutto said. "She's always first to the ball. She always tries so hard, so that's really awesome about that. Her trying so hard motivated us I think to switch gears."
Hutto scored the game winner with 12:17 left in the game. Senior Brooklyn Buckminster sent a ball long and Hutto blew by the Lady Cyclones' defense into a 1-v-1 situation with the keeper. Instead of blasting the ball into the goal, Hutto craftfully dribbed the ball around and in for the score.
"I was going to do it to the left bottom corner, but the last second I saw her diving that way," she said. "If I play that way she's going to get it. Honeslty I juked myself out, but it kind of worked out. I kind of center stepped a little bit and she was on the ground already, so I just kind of toe-balled it in."
The win moved Siloam Springs to Saturday's semifinals against Searcy. Results were not available at presstime.
It was Siloam Springs' third victory over Russellville this season, but as always when the Lady Panthers play in Cyclone Stadium, it's typically a struggle.
"We always have a hard time in Russellville," Crenshaw said. "We've never come down here on the girls side and won comfortably. It's always been a battle. You look back to this year, 1-0. Last year I think Audrey (Maxwell) had to shoot a shot with 10 seconds left to win it. Two years ago they beat us here. It's always just a battle here.
"We controlled most of the game. We just couldn't finish. Then they got free on that one goal, and that kind of got their momentum going."
Siloam Springs squandered a couple of early scoring opportunities, but Russellville did not miss its change in the first half.
Cindy Gonzalez scored from 25 yards out on a line drive shot with 29:16 left in the first half to give the Lady Cyclones an early 1-0 lead and all the momentum.
Russellville, which beat Marion 2-1 on Thursday in the opening round, seemed to be dealing the hot playing conditions a bit better than the Lady Panthers as well.
"There's nothing negative to say about that game," Russellville coach Kelly Young said. "They came out and did what we asked them to do. They played their positions, do their role, focus, and I thought they did everything ... nothing to hang their heads about today.
"We definitely had them scared. We do play them hard down here for some reason, which is great. If we could have held them off just a little bit later I thought we would have been all right."
Crenshaw said he and the coaches definitely challenged the Lady Panthers at halftime.
"Yeah we kind of got after them at halftime and challenged them mentally, because we felt like we were getting outworked. I know it's hot and I know they're tired, but we challenged them mentally to be a little bit tougher in the second half and fight through that stuff. And we should have fresher legs since they played (Thursday). They've got to fight through that stuff."Sports on 05/12/2018
Print Headline: Freshman Race sparks Lady Panthers