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story.lead_photo.caption Lance Crabtree (right) and Donald Benamna of the Little Rock Rangers react after Wednesday night’s loss to Demize NPSL in the National Premier Soccer League Heartland Conference playoffs at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Wednesday night's National Premier Soccer League playoff opener summed up the Little Rock Rangers' 2019 season.

"It was a season of missed opportunities," Rangers Coach Will Montgomery said after his team fell 3-0 in penalty kicks to Demize NPSL in the Heartland Conference semifinals at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Little Rock finished 4-6-1 after a second-place finish in the regular season in the Heartland Conference.

It was 1-1 after regulation and overtime, with both teams scoring in the first half.

Demize NPSL (4-3-4) heads to the Heartland Conference final Saturday at Tulsa Athletic. Tulsa Athletic defeated Ozark FC of Springdale 6-2 in another semifinal match Wednesday in Tulsa.

Demize NPSL goalkeeper Nicolas Helin was proud of how his team played despite being on the road.

"We came here and had nothing to lose," Helin said. "They won the [Heartland] championship last year. We were free. We had no pressure. We won."

Helin had 14 saves for Demize NPSL. He stopped Alex Guadron, Carlos Beltran and Ben Watson in the penalty-kick round.

On Watson's shot, Helin deflected it with his left hand as his teammates stormed onto the field in victory.

Demize NPSL got penalty-kick goals from Gustavo Nascimento, Athos Resende Monteiro and Quentin Hornung.

Gallery: Little Rock Rangers vs Demize

[Photos not showing up? Click here for the gallery » https://www.arkansasonline.com/galleries/26733/album/]

Before penalty kicks took place, most of the Rangers' fans -- including the Red Watch supporters group -- moved to the south end zone at War Memorial Stadium from their customary seats on the west side of the venue.

The crowd behind him didn't faze Helin.

"It fired me up," he said. "I love being in stadiums where the fans are here and cheering. That's the atmosphere I love."

Montgomery credited Helin for his play.

"That keeper had a pretty good second half," Montgomery said. "He made some critical saves in the game."

Rian Marques scored in the 15th minute for Demize NPSL, but Lance Crabtree responded with the Rangers' goal in the 27th minute.

Little Rock thought it had a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute, but Donald Benamna's goal was waved off because of offsides.

Demize NPSL took a 1-0 lead as Marques scored thanks to a deflection off Rangers goalkeeper Walid Birrou.

The Rangers tied the match at 1-1 when Daishi Uekeri found Crabtree in front of the goal, and Crabtree's shot went off of Helin into the net.

Little Rock almost took a 2-1 lead in the first half of extra time, but Crabtree's header was saved by Helin and the match was 1-1 at halftime.

The Rangers had an opportunity to take a 2-1 lead in the 119th minute, but Benamna's shot was blocked by Matt Perry in front of Helin.

"We had chances, but we're just not finishing," Montgomery said.

Little Rock was making its second consecutive playoff appearance. The Rangers advanced to the NPSL South Region final last season after victories against Tulsa Athletic, FC Wichita and Laredo Heat SC.

But the Rangers lost their final two matches of this season, scoring one goal total in losses to Demize NPSL, which also shut out Little Rock 2-0 on Saturday.

"It was frustrating to see so many chances with so many shots on goal not going in," Montgomery said. "Going forward, I'm definitely going to be shopping for some goal scorers. Some people who can bag in multiple goals a game. I feel confident about doing it."

Helin and Demize NPSL are moving on in the NPSL playoffs. Despite Tulsa having home-field advantage Saturday, Helin is confident in his team's chances.

"We're going to enjoy it," Helin said. "We're going to play to win."

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Carlos Beltran (right) of the Little Rock Rangers leaps for a header during the first half of Wednesday night’s game.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Carlos Beltran of the Little Rock Rangers reacts after missing a penalty kick during the Rangers’ loss to Demize NPSL in the National Premier Soccer League Heartland Conference playoffs Wednesday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Sports on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: Little Rock Rangers blanked on PKs

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