RUSSELLVILLE -- Nearly three weeks ago, the Siloam Springs boys soccer team found itself in a lowpoint of a season of peaks and valleys.
The Panthers had just lost three of four games -- including a 4-1 loss to Russellville on senior night on April 20, followed shortly thereafter by a 4-0 defeat on the road at defending 4A champion Dardanelle and a 3-2 loss at Clarksville.
Indeed the Panthers had appeared to have hit rock bottom.
"There's been some adversity there with them," said Siloam Springs head coach Brent Crenshaw. "After Dardanelle, I wasn't sure how we were going to do."
Siloam Springs only had one direction to go at that point -- straight up. And that's just what the Panthers have done in recent weeks.
Siloam Springs won its fifth straight game and advanced to the Class 6A state title game with a 2-0 win against Benton on Saturday in the semifinals of the Class 6A state tournament at Cyclone Stadium in Russellville.
The Panthers (16-7-3), two-time defending state champions in Class 6A, will be making their ninth appearance in the championship game overall and will play at 4 p.m. Friday against Russellville at Razorback Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Siloam Springs is in search of its fifth state championship to go with titles in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017.
"I'm really proud of the boys," Crenshaw said. "They came together. For them to pull it back together, it just shows a lot of leadership and I'm proud of them."
Following the loss to Clarksville on April 26, Siloam Springs rebounded to crush Texarkana 13-0 in the opening round of the 6A-West Conference Tournament on April 28 and then beat Greenwood 3-0 in the semifinals.
Siloam Springs knocked off Russellville 1-0 for the 6A-West championship and earned a No. 1 seed and first-round bye in the state tournament. They advanced to Saturday's game against Benton after beating a tough Little Rock Hall team 2-1 on Friday in the quarterfinals.
"We've come along the last couple of weeks in boys," Crenshaw said. "It's been kind of a challenge. I knew defensively we've always been really, really good. It's just been finding the back of the net. I knew Christian (Marroquin) was going to create chances. With Eli (Jackson) being out it created some challenges for us. Some guys stepped up."
A pair of underclassmen helped the Panthers find victory on Saturday against the Benton Panthers.
Sophomore Danny Daugherty scored the game's first goal midway through the first half on an assist from Christian Marroquin.
Marroquin played the ball in open space and passed to Daugherty, who was calling for the ball down the left flank. Daugherty scored with 20 minutes, 46 seconds to go in the half for a 1-0 lead. The goal was Daugherty's third of the season and Marroquin's team-leading third assist.
"(Marroquin) saw me run in because there was a gap right there between the two players," Daugherty said. "He passed to me and I got a touch on it, saw the corner and passed it in."
With 11:02 remaining in the game, freshman Franklin Cortez played a Brian Andrade cornerkick for another Siloam Springs goal and a 2-0 lead.
Defensively, it was Siloam Springs' 13th shutout of the season.
"Today I feel like the key to the whole defense was communication," said senior defender Jorge Perez. "The past few games we weren't really connecting because we weren't really communicating. Now that we're communicating we're actually connecting and coming together as a team and it's helped us a lot in these games."
Benton's season ended with a record of 16-3-2. Benton had played the two previous days, beating Jacksonville 7-0 on Thursday in the opening round before surviving a 1-0 nailbiter against Mountain Home on Friday in the quarterfinals.
"Hat's off to them," Benton coach Bobby Winn said of Siloam Springs. "They're an extremely well-coached team and a very good team overall too. I'll take playing them all year long versus somebody I can beat 8-0 anytime of the week. I want our kids to compete and I thought we did that very well. We've just got to finish those scoring opportunities when it comes down to it."
The Panthers will now move on to Friday's championship game against Russellville (18-4-1), which beat Jonesboro 4-3 in the other semifinal.
Siloam Springs and Russellville have played each other 12 times over the course of the last three seasons with Friday's game being the 13th battle. Siloam Springs holds a 7-5 edge in the series over that time, including wins in the 2016 state championship and 2017 and 2018 6A-West championships. Russellville defeated the Panthers to win the 2015 state title.
"I always have a trick up my sleeve and I'm sure Brent does as well," said Russellville coach Jared Fuller. "I think we are very evenly matched, and yes the kids know each other's style very well. I have one kid on this current team that started as a ninth-grader and was a true part of the championship group in 2015. Siloam has won the last two -- one by beating us. I feel like the two best teams are playing in the final this year and my guys can't wait for the shot to regain the title. It's going to take a moment of greatness or a kid rising above their usual level of play to get this win."
The Panthers have won two of the three games this season against the Cyclones. Siloam Springs scored on a penalty kick on April 3 to beat Russellville 1-0. The Cyclones won 4-1 on April 20 in Siloam Springs. A controversial but true goal wound up being the deciding score in a 1-0 Siloam Springs victory in the 6A-West title game on May 6.
"We respect Russellville," Crenshaw said. "They're a great team, a great side. But we'll let our plan talk for everything next weekend."
Sports on 05/16/2018
Print Headline: On the way up