BY DAVE LINK
CHATTANOOGA — It was like the weight of the world was lifted off the shoulders of the Bearden girls’ soccer team Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Bulldogs defended their state championship and No. 1 national ranking with a 3-1 victory over Germantown Houston in the Class AAA state championship match at Red Wolves Stadium.
Bearden (24-0) was ranked No. 1 in the nation almost the entire season by United Soccer Coaches.
“It was definitely a big deal,” senior forward Brinley Murphy said of the ranking. “Honestly, that was one of my goals, to be No. 1 in the country at the end of the year because that’s a big deal. Honestly, we didn’t talk about it that much, but our goal was to win state and we did that, so I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
Murphy, a South Carolina commitment, scored one goal in Saturday’s final and finished the season with 41 goals – tied with Amy Porter (2008 season) for the program’s record for goals in a season.
Murphy scored four goals in Thursday’s 7-0 victory over Station Camp.
“I was aware after the last game that I had 40,” Murphy said. “I don’t really care that I didn’t break the record because we just won state. I’m beyond happy. That doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just happy for our team winning state.”
Bearden set a program record for goals scored in a season, while Murphy finished her career with the school-record 110 goals.
The Lady Bulldogs outscored their opponents 137-3 this season.
Houston (18-1-1), which tied Ravenwood 0-0 on Aug. 20, has outscored its opponents 77-5 this year.
Last year, Bearden finished 23-0-1 after a 3-1 victory over Houston in the state championship match.
With each match this season, the pressure kept building for Bearden, and it continued in the three state tournament matches.
“It was very mentally challenging, just knowing we’d already played two games and now we’ve got the hardest game of the three,” said senior midfielder Becca Roth, a Western Kentucky signee. “We had to be mentally in it, so it was very mentally challenging, but we made it.”
Bearden finished Saturday’s match with 13 shots (four on goal), while Houston had 13 shots (five on goal).
As the final seconds ticked off, Bearden senior goalkeeper Peyton Huber could feel her emotions building, and she shed tears of joy when it ended.
“You don’t even understand,” Huber said. “I’m just an emotional person, but definitely after getting scored on and getting them called back (for offsides or fouls) made me feel better.”
Bearden took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
Breana Mendoza made a pass inside the 18-yard box to Murphy, and a foul was called.
Rylie Lucas drilled the penalty kick to the lower left corner past Houston keeper Sophia Dawe, who dove the other way.
Bearden took the 1-0 lead into halftime.
“It was kind of sloppy early on, and I think it was (Mendoza) who got fouled in the box,” Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “Then it was a great finish by Riley, who hadn’t scored all year. She stepped up in the state championship game and knocked in the PK. That was massive.”
Murphy scored in the 56th minute for a 2-0 lead on a rebound goal after a shot by Jayla Blue.
“Jayla had a really good shot, and their keeper’s amazing,” Murphy said. “She had a great save and it was just a matter of whether me or the defender got there first.”
Bearden was called for a foul in the penalty box in the 63rdminute, resulting in a penalty kick.
Lauren Fang’s shot to the left went past Huber, who made a diving attempt the other direction.
Houston’s deficit was 2-1.
Bearden answered 7 minutes later.
Mendoza, a junior forward, got the ball deep in Houston’s end of the field, dribbled around a defender, and fired a shot from about 15 yards past Dawe for a 3-1 lead.
“It was a huge goal by (Mendoza) where there was a lot of momentum, giving up the PK (by Houston),” Radcliffe said. “For her to come back and put that goal in, I thought it was massive.”
In the last 15 minutes, the Lady Bulldogs fended off Houston’s runs.
Murphy had an open shot in the 78th minute that went over the goal.
No matter. Murphy didn’t get the single-season record, but got another state championship ring.
“To be honest, that was one of our rougher games this year, just all-around playing wise,” Murphy said. “We were just really tired and it was obvious, but we fought through and had more heart. At the end of the day, we were just like, ‘No matter what, we’re going to have more heart and we’re going to show it and prove it on the field.’”
Radcliffe called it a historic season by the Lady Bulldogs.
“I told them at the end of the game, they just made history,” he said. “I’d like to think it’s one of those teams you can say, ‘Remember that 2022 team? They were one of the best teams to ever come through here.’ I’d like to think so, but I’d also like to think we have teams coming up that can surpass that.”