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Conway sticks to plan in victory |  The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
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Conway sticks to plan in victory | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

No matter the game, no matter the opponent, no matter the score, the Conway boys soccer team will stick to what works.

The two-time defending champion Wampus Cats spent more than half of Friday’s quarterfinals waiting for their unique game plan to yield results.

By the time the final whistle blew, as it had 16 times earlier this season, Conway used that plan to win 3-2 in overtime against Bentonville in the Class 6A boys soccer tournament at Little Rock Southwest High School.

“We’ve been that way since I got here 11 years ago,” Conway coach Matthew Page said. “It’s not conventional, it’s not pretty, and everyone probably hates me because of it. But at the end of the day, we win games.”

After a scoreless first half, Bentonville (9-8-1) took the lead two minutes into the second half when junior Niko Martinovic rounded the goalie and scored.

Six minutes later, senior Andrei Paley scored to make it 2-0.

Throughout the game, Conway (17-1-2) used its game plan to create dead-ball opportunities. Whether it was free kicks, corner kicks or looping throw-ins.

“We are proud of that,” says Page. “Of course we would like to have more possession every time we play, but sometimes that isn’t realistic. So we have to find other ways to put the ball in the back of the net.”

In the 50th minute, Conway’s Tripp Strange cut the lead in half with a goal, and in the 69th minute, Sawyer Fredrich tied the score with a 25-yard strike over the goalkeeper’s head.

As the game headed toward overtime, the Wampus Cats tried to find the finishing touch on one of those long throw-ins that had been a headache for the Tigers. One finally hit the ball in the 87th minute as Lincoln Parker found the ball in an attempt to score to make it 3-2.

“This team is a very experienced team,” Page said. “We have 15 seniors and they all play minutes. That’s kind of what an experienced high school team does: they step up, they rise to the challenge.”

Friday’s win moves Conway into Saturday’s semifinals to face Bryant and one game closer to that all-important three-peat.

The Wampus Cats senior class has lost five games over the last three seasons. They were freshmen the last time Conway didn’t win the state title in 2021, when it fell in the finals.

So Page preaches daily about what those teams did to win, and with each successive title the challenge becomes that much greater.

“It takes a little luck, but a lot of skill, and you can’t get luck without practice and doing the little things right, and that’s what we preach every day,” Page said. “You have to create your own happiness, and these guys do that.”

Rogers Heritage 3, Springdale 1

Springdale dominated play to open the match and keep Rogers Heritage in its half for most of the first 20 minutes.

In the 27th minute, the War Eagles (11-8-1) took a 1-0 lead when Elian Hinojosa scored from the top of the box.

Heritage scored on a corner kick in the 44th minute, but Springdale (13-1-5) got one back in the 47th minute to cut the lead to 2-1.

Heritage forward Carter Ligi took advantage of a misplayed touch by a Springdale defender and carried the ball 40 yards to score and take a 3-1 lead.

Little Rock Catholic 4, Fayetteville 1

Little Rock Catholic took the lead in the first half on a long-range strike by Danny Nava to take a 1-0 lead.

Fayetteville (9-6) tied the score in the 55th minute after a deflected cross was passed to Diego Gonzales, who made it 1-1.

Catholic (13-4-3) answered with a second-half hat trick from Tripp Ortega with goals in the 57th, 68th and 74th minutes.

Bryant 2, Rogers 1 (2OT)

In the 23rd minute, Bryant’s Geovanny Luna scored from long range to give the Hornets (13-1-7) a 1-0 lead.

In the 51st minute, Chriss Salinas shot from 20 yards to tie the score for the Mounties (11-8).

Both teams traded half-chances throughout the remainder of the second half and the first extra period, but neither could find the back of the net.

In the 93rd minute, Bryant’s Edwin Ibarra shot the match winner from outside the penalty area past the keeper.

photo Conway’s Logan Grier (left) and Bentonville’s Niko Martinovic appear to control the ball Friday during the first half of the Wampus Cats’ 3-2 victory over the Tigers in the second round of the Class 6A boys soccer state tournament in Little Rock Southwest. Conway will meet Bryant in the semifinals on Saturday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)