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PREP SOCCER: Harrison tops PA, grabs 5A girls title

by Mitchell Gladstone | May 21, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
Harrison's Clare Barger (13) tries to get the ball past the Pulaski Academy goalkeeper Leighton Meador, center in pink jersey, during the Arkansas 5A state girls soccer championship game at Estes Stadium on the UCA campus in Conway on Saturday, May 20, 2023. See more photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

CONWAY -- Harrison's last trip to the girls soccer state finals on May 21, 2021, was by no means a distant memory for those on the Goblins' sideline Saturday afternoon.

Although just a handful were key players on that team, they remembered Pulaski Academy's 4-0 second-half rout that day in Benton, not to mention the Bruins' 41-1-1 stretch in the two seasons since.

"Coming into this game, there wasn't a sense of, 'Oh, could it happen again?' " Harrison senior Clare Barger said of facing the perennial powerhouse again. "It was a sense of, 'We want it this time.' "

Barger scored the game's lone goal in the 50th minute at Estes Stadium on Saturday, lifting the Goblins to a 1-0 upset win over Pulaski Academy in the Class 5A girls' soccer championship game.

Harrison's victory not only prevented the Bruins from completing a three-peat -- Pulaski Academy backed up its 2021 title by beating Valley View last season -- but it also gave the Goblins an eighth title as well as their fifth since 2014.

"I'm tickled for them," said Coach Chris Pratt, who's led Harrison since 2001. "I've won more than my fair share in a lifetime. ... We prepared to be able to play against a team like [PA] and did some things differently than what we have in years past, and I'm proud that it worked."

Barger's winner was exemplary of what the Goblins looked to do from the start in attacking a stellar Pulaski Academy defense that entered with 16 shutouts in 21 games this season. Harrison (21-4-1) sent long balls over the Bruins' back line, trying to find Barger -- a senior capable of both scoring and finding her teammates.

The striker got her best chance of the first half in the 13th minute, sailing a half-volley well over the crossbar, but Barger didn't miss her biggest opportunity out of halftime.

A lofted cross from close to 40 yards out began to fall just in front of the 6-yard box, and Barger beat her defender to it. From there, she needed just one touch to skip past Pulaski Academy's goalkeeper and pass the ball into the back of the net.

"When I saw it in the air, I thought I could definitely get there," Barger said. "[The touch] happened to be in my favor, so [I just needed to] stay composed in front of the goal."

The Bruins wound up with several opportunities to tie over the final half-hour, primarily from long set-piece attempts by Carmen Owen. But Pulaski Academy (20-2) actually got its best look at goal before halftime when a speculative flick by Lindsey Johnston from 25 yards out banged off the outside of the right post.

The Bruins peppered shots at the Goblins' net up until the final minute when Harrison was finally able to control the ball and kill the game off.

"It just wasn't our day, unfortunately," Pulaski Academy Coach Chris Owen said. "Both teams are aggressive and physical. ... It was a hard-fought game, and it was just that sort of game, which a final is. It's hard to win the state championship."

Both Barger and Harrison goalkeeper Sydney Hobson were eighth-graders in 2019 when the Goblins won their last title.

They could only watch that one as fans, but they imagined being able to hold a trophy of their own at some point down the line.

"It lived up to the hype," Hobson said with a smile.

 Gallery: 5A Girls Soccer Championship

Print Headline: Harrison tops PA, grabs 5A girls title


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