The Bethlehem Girls Soccer team had only HISTORY to beat on the way to their 4th straight 5th Region Championship
You could say that the Bethlehem Girls Soccer team had only themselves to beat in the way of their 4-Peat for a 5th Region Girls Soccer Championship. A team built on a fabulous freshman class and a great mix of youngsters and upper class players. Going from the hunter to the hunted is something they have had to get use to the last several seasons. And to think it all started back in 2015.
Fabulous Freshman Class
The Bethlehem Lady Banshees have always been a pretty good soccer team, but only the Boys team had a history of Region Titles and Semi-state appearances. That was until 2015, when a talented freshman class came in and changed everything. Maddie Sparks, Abigail Proctor, Carly Beam, Jordan Cross and Miranda Blanford moved in and combined with a sophomore group and experienced senior class surprised everyone first winning the 19th District Final in a shootout and moving into the 5th Region Final in their first full year of varsity play. The offense led by Sparks (33-goals), Proctor (30-goals) and senior Megan Spalding (20) helped combine for 100 in that first season together and the clutch performance of Peyton Miracle (was there every a more fitting name) in both Championhip shootouts and you had the makings of a Hollywood story for a team which came from nowhere to famous in one season. The Region Final against Elizabethtown was one for the ages as the experienced champions (ET) faced the young and cocky challenger (BETH) and fittingly it came down to an overtime shootout which the Lady Banshees pulled out going 4-for-4 at the line and while the defending champion Lady Panthers were 2-for-4. When Miracle fired the clinching shot, she jumped straight in the air even before the ball hit the net. A NEW Champion was crowned, but they weren’t going to be satisfied with just getting there though. After clutch goals by Sparks and Protor in state games against Mercy and Henderson County and the Lady Banshees became the first team in the Bardstown area to reach the Final Four in that sport (boys or girls). Even though eventual champ Sacred Heart ended their season, it was just the beginning as the Lady Banshees had just begun!
Getting Back is Hard to Do
The early success should have been a sign of things to come as the Lady Banshees cut through the Region competition like a knife through butter winning the Region Tournament the next two seasons, but both times were repelled in the first semi-state game losing to Simon Kenton and Sacred Heart. Still going into their senior season, the Lady Banshees and head coach Dan Rossoll had high expectations going into the new season even though they had lost a great senior class from the previous season in Rachel Allen, Sydney Greenwell, Abby Elder and Haley Nelson. All had been a part of huge roles in the team’s past three 5th Region Championships. Still, there was Sparks and Proctor and Beam had become a scorer. Cross had been a great defensive presence along with Miranda Blanford, Baeli Young and Buckley Sparks (no relation to Maddie) along with several others. They could score, but preventing goals would be an early issue.
The first four games you could say was a forcaster to what the Lady Banshees had to work on and even though the scorers were still there, your biggest question was the defense. With both Goalkeepers gone along with defender Sydney Greenwell, you had to wonder what would happen against the Lady Banshees tough schedule which included Paul Laurence Dunbar, DuPont Manuel, Bowling Green, Assumption and Newport Catholic? After a 2-1 loss to Dunbar to start the season, they put togther wins over Madison Southern and Frederick Douglas and then a home game against powerful DuPont Manuel. The last time Rossoll’s team had faced the Lady Crimsons was last season and they actually had a 2-0 lead until the loss of Greenwell late in the game due to an injury opened the flood gates to a 3-2 Manuel win. This time however, the final score was a lot uglier. The 9-2 loss was the worse since 2013 when they lost 10-0 to Tates Creek. In fact, since 2015 the defense hadn’t allowed that many goals against them in a game. Despite goals by Cross and Sparks, the defense played badly against a very good Manuel team and Rossoll had to make some changes in personnal. One things for sure. After that mess, who would have thought that Bethlehem wouldn’t walk off the field losers again that season until Halloween Night?
Sometimes it hurts to be a Lady Banshee
After the debacle against DuPont Manuel, the Lady Banshees went on a tear winning their next four games to finish out the month of August. Probabaly the most satisfying was the 7-1 win over rival Bardstown on Saturday with Sparks and Beam picking up a pair of goals each and the new and improved defense with goalkeeper Lauren Debold nearly threw a shutout against the Lady Tigers. Things were looking up for the lady Banshees when they traveled to the Purples Classic in Bowling Green and got wins six, seven and eight against Bowling Green, Lexington Christian and South Warren by a combined score of 17-2. Bethlehem was now 8-2-1, but at a price. Abigail Proctor suffered a leg injury that would follow her through much of the season and then Jordan Cross also suffered an injury. Carly Beam had been nicked up as well, but played through it as the Lady Banshee victory train never stopped as Rossell kept finding the right parts to plug in. Bethlehem went 10-0-1 during the reminder of the season as Sparks picked up the slack and the Lady Banshees won the All “A” Classic Tournament while finishing out the regular season without a loss. After winning the 19th District Tournament for the fourth straight year, the path that lay ahead was simple in the 5th Region Tournament at Thomas Nelson and with Elziabethtown and Taylor County in their bracket they would find out who really was No.1.
You have to BEAT the best to get there
After beating Taylor County 10-0 in the first round of the Regional Tournament, Bethlehem would face the team which is where it all began for them in 2015 and the Lady Panthers of Elizabethtown were tired of the talk. So many thought this semi-final match was the REAL Championship game as both teams could score (ET had over 100-goals as well as BETH) and their defense had thrown eleven shutouts and in five others allowed only a single goal. Also, head coach Pat Black’s team had been the reigning Region Champs until the Lady Banshees had come along so they badly wanted that title back. Early on, the strategy of keeping defenders on both Sparks and Proctor and not allowing them to roam at their lesiure and set up teammates for scores was working until midway through the first half when Proctor saw an opening and shot one past the defense in the right corner of the net. Elizabethtown answered quickly when Ann Bell retrieved a corner kick and redirected it to tie things up at 1-1. Bethlehem took advantage of a penalty in the box when Proctor scored her second goal on a grounder low and away past the Goalie. The score was 2-1 at the half and then Maddie Sparks got started. First she sank one early in the second half to make it 3-1, then a penalty kick a little later and then finally to finish the hat trick another goal on a runout along the left sideline to make it 5-1. That gave her seven goals against Elizabethtown in three games and she was also responsible for one of the more humorist moments late in the game when she was fighting for position and got in a tangle with a Lady Panther defender and was called for a foul while on the ground to her disbelief. It was a funny way to end a strange game as the Bethlehem Five (seniors) finished their varsity career going 5-0 against both Elizabethtown and Central Hardin. Not bad, but more importantly they advanced to the Region Final for the Fourth straight year and guess who was waiting for them.
An ALL BARDSTOWN Final AGAIN!
When both Bardstown and Bardstown Bethlehem made the Championship game, it marked the second straight year that it was an All-19th District showcase and head coach Martin Bodkin knew what he was up against as his Lady Tigers had already played this team three times before and each time were outscored (14-3), but this was a single elimination game and despite losing a lot of scoring from last year’s team, they developed other scorers like Emma Livingston along with Molly Bodkin. The Lady Tigers were held to just a goal a piece each loss and it would seem they would need more than just that, so as predicted Bardstown played a different game and that set up a fantastic ending. Bethlehem goalkeeper Lauren Debold was stung twice by Bodkin and the score stood at a 2-2 tie. Bardstown was doing their job using a hands on approach keeping the Sparks and Proctor off balance and the game looked to be headed to overtime with both teams playing with ruthless defensive intensity as there was bumping and shoving on both sides. It would take a big play to change that and Proctor had the answer. After scoring an early goal, the Lady Tigers defenders knew how to keep the tiny forward off balance. During much of the season, she, like Sparks were being asked to not only bring the ball up field, but to be scorers as well and despite her size (she never seems to have grown much since her freshman year) defenders always try to mug her up the field and try to intimidate her, but with less than 8:00 remaining on a team full of heroes, it was No.28’s turn to shine. Proctor, on a runout charged up the middle breaking away from her defender and forced the goalkeeper Gabby Woods to come and defend and when she sped past her to the left corner outside the box, Proctor fired an off balance shot at the goal from an angle with a small window and struck gold. The moment the ball smacked against the net, Maddie Sparks pumped her fist in the air and the seniors hugged in what slowly became a huge team embrace as the Lady Banshees knew that they had sewed up another 5th Region Title in the most dramatic way. Still, it was the “Lady Banshee Way” whether it was Proctor, Sparks, Carly Beam, Jordan Cross or someone else, they always found a way to win and now they stood at the team trophy podium for the fourth time. Although disappointed for the second straight year, Bodkin showed the Proctor, during the handshake line afterwards the greatest amount of respect by giving her a big hug. It was a great gesture from a coach, who knows how hard it is to get there and what it takes to do it multiple times. The Lady Banshees on the other hand had finished a murderous stretch in which they never lost to either a 19th District or 5th Region Foe in four years. They had also went 10 for 10 in (Region) playoff games during that period of time and this four year group of seniors were also about to play in more games than any in the Region during a four year history because they would make two Final Four appearances as well, but more of that because first there was a semi-state date with Bullitt East in the first step to the Final Four.
At first glance, the Bullitt East Sub-sectionals State Playoff game seemed like a slight diversion for Bethlehem until their their Elite Eight date with whoever came out of that region. After being ranked as high as No.2 in some state girls soccer polls, the Lady Banshees were riding high, but Rossell never felt the need to keep his team grounded as they had weathered a tough regular season schedule and the veterans had already been there once. Region 6 champion Bullitt East may have came from a tough area, but they were no match for Bethlehem (when they are healthy at least). Hosting their first home state playoff game EVER, the Lady Banshees went bing, bang, bing scoring three times in about the first fifteen minutes taking a 3-0 lead and giving the impression that the game would be over before the first half. Then it happened. Maddie Sparks went down five minutes into the game when she was bumped from behind and didn’t return, but it didn’t seem to matter with her team up by three. Then it happened again. Jordan Cross has been an excellent defender with the speed to chase down strikers and funnel them to the sideline on fastbreaks until help arrives, but this time she crossed up the Lady Chargers on a long kickout and literly threw herself off balance at a shot destined for the goal when the goalkeeper was out of position and blocked it, but was bumped and landed on her knee. “It was the worst pain I had ever felt.” Said Cross who didn’t return either. Bullitt East recovered quickly scoring first on a corner kick and then less than a minute afterwards stealing a pass then redirecting it into the goal. Suddenly their 3-0 lead was suddenly 3-2 and Proctor changed that on a runout chasing the goalkeeper out and passing the ball into the net from the left side. But the game then took on a strange rhythm as Bullitt East slipped another corner kick just inside the net and closed the score at 4-3 again. The game stayed close until Maddie Sparks miraculously came back into the game and scored in the second half to up it back to 5-3, but then just as fast the Lady Chargers responded again cutting the lead to 5-4. Then Cross reentered with her knee taped up and visibly limping and then Proctor scuffling for possession went down and went to the sideline. Although she later reentered, Carly Beam took off on a runout and scored to put the game at 6-4. The Lady Chargers got one more to close at 6-5 and that;s how it ended. Afterwards, Rossoll moaned about his kick defense and remarked that he wouldn’t have let either Sparks or Cross reenter if the score had stayed at 3-0. Still, they survived and that was all that was important. Someone remarked that this game was similar to the team’s Mercy win at semi-state three years ago when they took a lead in the rain and had to come back to win on Maddie Sparks goal. No. Not quite. That one was about to come up next.
If you play in enough games, they start to run together and after awhile you are in the middle of one and begin to realize that something feels familiar. For the Bethlehem Lady Banshees, that happened again that Saturday night at Paul Laurence Dunbar as Bethlehem faced Henderson County in an Elite Eight state tournament game. The Colonels were one of the top scoring teams in the state and Maddie Griggs wanted to add to her 216-goals. It was Henderson County, who the Lady Banshees knocked off in 2015 in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four and in that game Abigail Proctor got the only goal in a 1-0 win. This time it was Maddie Sparks, who looked to end the suspense early with two goals in the first half to put Bethlehem up 2-0 at the half, but then Griggs got her 217th to close at 2-1 in the second half and then got an assist to make it 2-2 after regulation. Then it was a chess match between two teams which both wanted badly to advance to the next level as the Colonels had several chances, but came up empty and Proctor had chances to end the game as well so the game drifted into overtime and no one scored. Then into a second overtime and finally Sparks decided enough was enough taking advantage of a cross by Ginny Spalding and Sparks buried it into the left side corner of the net just past Ashby Greenwell to end the game with about four minutes remaining in the overtime, 3-2. Sparks hat trick gave her 42 for the season and the Lady Banshees once again had pulled another rabbit out of the hat and survived to play another day. On a night when play started about 7:00 pm and finally ended nearly two and half hours later, Rossell’s girls left a tired bunch that simply wouldn’t die and were headed to Frederick Douglass high school for a Final Four match with Highlands.
A POINTLESS Ending
An 8:00 start welcomed the Bethlehem Girls Soccer team against Highlands and it eventually was moved to about a 9:00 start because rain and thunder welcomed the warmup session. It seemed like a fitting beginning for the Lady Banshees and unfortunately for them it only got worse. Highlands was a 22-4 team which could score with the best of them and as the weather got worse it became pretty evident that the first team to score would have the advantage. Highlands got a goal just before the half and pretty much sat on it until two more eventually followed as the Lady Banshees were unable to contain either Maria Broering or Lindsey Meyer. The final score of 3-0 was a fitting ending for this team as they have ended their last four seasons being outscored 12-0. As the team filed off the field there was a sudden finality that this was truly the end as several players exchanged hugs while other wiped the sweat from their faces as the season and the four year run had finally come to a 3-0 end.
There is no question that the Lady Banshees have been a great story over the past four seasons. Their record of 74-wins-24-losses-4-ties during that time and they outscored the opposition 438-163 against pretty tough competition should stand with the best in the 5th Region history. Both Abigail Proctor and Maddie Sparks will go down as two of the most prolific scorers during that time combining for 257-goals which is slightly more than Maddie Griggs (but she never got to play in a Final Four) and both will be playing next year in college. Coach Rossell had told me earlier that to have one player like that during a coaching lifetime is special, but to have two was simply a blessing. The fact that they both worked well together and made everyone better was a sign of true competitors and it also helped several others get to the next level as well. They helped their defense and goalkeepers play with a lead most of the time and their unselfish attitudes were a huge plus, but most importantly they will go down in history as two of the most CLUTCH players in the state’s history. It’s one thing to score when there’s nothing at stake, but when the game is on the line and your defense is getting tired that’s when you know when a athlete has ice water in their veins. Like Reggie Miller once said that a winner is doing the same thing when he (or she) was ten, twenty or thirty. Plus they were always fun to interview as well as everyone else on the team. They all made good print for us journalist. There were so many other great stories like Carly Beam, Jordan Cross, Haley Nelson, Sydney Greenwell, Abby Elder, Rachel Allen, Peyton Miracle, Morgan Yates, Miranda Blanford, the 2015 Region Final, the Mercy game in the rain, the 2017 Region Final, the Bullitt East game and so many more. Enough to fill a 2,000 page novel or an ESPN 30 for 30. And to think it all started with a Miracle (Peyton to be the precise) and ended on a cold wet field in Lexington, KY. I myself will always have the memory of the first time I saw them play in the 2015 Regional at Elizabethtown as the five freshman seemed smaller then everyone else and everyone watching wondered when the varsity team was going to take the field for warmups. I still remember the happy go lucky attitude they took when Proctor, Miracle, Spalding, Sparks and Cross took the field for the shootout skipping and as happy as you please. They simply didn’t know better it seemed. Now, I began to wonder maybe they knew something I didn’t. Memories tend to fade and legends become bigger than life as time passes. The funny thing about teams and players is that there will always great ones and records and wins are meant to be broken, but it will be a long time before another team or senior class comes along like the one that just left at a small girls soccer team in Bardstown, KY. Because there will NEVER be another group like the 2015-2018 Bethlehem Lady Banshees.