BY DAVE LINK
CHATTANOOGA — Rylie Lucas was a freshman coming off the bench when the Bearden girls’ soccer team lost to Franklin 1-0 in the Class AAA state championship on Oct. 31, 2020.
It was the last time the Lady Bulldogs lost a match.
Bearden (22-0-1) ran its unbeaten streak to 71 consecutive matches Saturday afternoon with a 4-0 victory over Ravenwood in the Class AAA state championship at CHI Memorial Stadium.
Lucas, now a senior defender, was chosen MVP of the match as the Lady Bulldogs won their third consecutive state title.
“I think the senior class has an understanding that we know what it feels like to lose freshman year,” Lucas said. “Understanding that everything you work for, all the hard workouts, it all pays off in the end. I think we’ve set a good billboard that this is the expectation and you do it for your alumni. We had multiple messages from our alumni come out and it just fueled us.”
It was a grueling tournament week for the Lady Bulldogs, who beat Houston 2-1 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals and Franklin 3-1 in Thursday’s semifinals.
The Bearden-Houston match paired two nationally ranked teams.
Bearden trailed Houston 1-0 at halftime – its first deficit of the season – in what Lady Bulldogs coach Ryan Radcliffe said felt like “a state championship game.”
“I think we left everything we had out on that field and we just had to find a way to get through two more (matches),” Radcliffe said. “Then you see Franklin, who has only one loss (at the time) on the season.
“I told the girls last night, ‘I don’t know if there ever has been a team that’s had to go through the road we had to get through just to be on this field,’ and that’s a lot of hats off to Houston and Franklin, and then Ravenwood’s a great team in its own right. There was no easy path for us. We took it with stride. We tried not to complain too much and just went with it.”
They went with defense Saturday, like they have much of the season.
Bearden posted its 15th shutout of the season against Ravenwood (11-6) and allowed only eight goals during the season.
Senior goalkeeper Anna Wyatt had two saves in the final, in which Bearden had 14 shots (nine on goal) and Ravenwood had three shots (two on goal).
Senior wing Breana Mendoza gave Bearden a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute, scoring from close range off a pass by sophomore Jayla Blue.
“I think putting the first goal in the back of the net really set the tone of the game, especially putting it in early,” Mendoza said. “We weren’t really connecting passes, but once we found that final ball, I think it’s when we really started putting things together.”
Mendoza, who’s committed to Dayton, scored a goal in each of Bearden’s three state championship matches. She has 18 goals and 18 assists this year.
“Bre’s scored big goals for us in each of the last three state championship games,” Radcliffe said. “It’s her stage. She likes being here.”
Lucas, a McKendree (Illinois) commitment, made it 2-0 in the 16th minute after a free kick by Mendoza.
“Bre took a great ball inside and it happened to be right on the side of the 18-yard box,” Lucas said. “It’s my sweet spot. (Alivia Stott) told me she had full confidence in me that I would make it and I believed her.”
Bearden had a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs had eight shots (five on goal) to Ravenwood’s three shots (two on goal) in the first half.
Radcliffe said getting the first-half lead was huge.
“I think everybody’s legs are dead come today,” Radcliffe said. “We talked a lot about your legs always feel a little bit lighter once you get one in the back of the net.”
Stott scored in the 55th minute for a 3-0 lead on a breakaway after a pass by Nyla Blue, Jayla’s sister; Stott and Nyla Blue are Tennessee commitments. Stott led Bearden this season with 39 goals.
Bearden made it 4-0 in the 77th minute on an own goal by Ravenwood after Stott’s corner kick went into the goalie box.
Soon afterwards, the Lady Bulldogs were celebrating the fifth state championship in program history.
“It’s a blessing. I’m blessed just to be this coach,” Radcliffe said. “The girls, it didn’t really take a lot this year to motivate them to get them going. There’s a lot of good senior leadership and direction.
“I still don’t know if this group really understands what they’ve accomplished the last three years. In a weird way, it’s kind of what they expect, to be here, but I know what it takes to be here, and it’s unreal what they were able to do.”
Mendoza and her teammates will never forget the three-peat.
“Honestly, I could not have imagined it,” Mendoza said, “but it truly has been one of the best opportunities of my life.”