Next stop...State Finals

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Green Forest's Walter Leon (22) upends Episcopal Collegiate goalie Braylon Smith in Friday's first round action of the Class 4A state soccer playoffs at Burns Park in North Little Rock. The Tigers beat Valley View in Monday's semifinals and will play Central Arkansas Christian in Saturday's championship game in Fayetteville. (Chan Davis / Carroll County News)

LITTLE ROCK -- Green Forest found a way to win on Friday, eased to victory on Saturday and dominated in a win on Monday to earn a right to play for the 2014 Class 4A State Championship Saturday at 4 p.m. in Fayetteville.

The Tigers needed overtime to beat Episcopal Collegiate 3-2 Friday afternoon to open the state tournament, shut out Cossatot River 3-0 on Saturday in the quarterfinals and upended Valley View 3-1 on Monday. Green Forest will square off against Central Arkansas Christian on Saturday at the University of Arkansas soccer field.

"All of the guys are happy and excited and confident," Green Forest coach Bradley James said. "They feel like they are the best team in the state. You have to believe in yourself. CAC is the defending state champion. But our guys believe in themselves."

The Tigers fell on hard times during the season but have continued to push forward. Green Forest overcame injuries, seeding malfunctions and late-season chemistry problems to reach the pinnacle of the season.

"I think this is due to our 12 seniors," James said. "You kind of put it on them and let them know it's up to them. You expect them to lead each other. Since the regionals they have had that positive attitude. You can't get down and they have done a better job the last three games playing as a team."

The season nearly ended on Friday when Episcopal scored two early goals in the first half. But the Tigers responded late in the second half with two goals from Eric Perez and Rolyn Perez stuck one inside the bottom left corner with five minutes left in double overtime for the game winner. Perez missed several opportunities early in the game that could have switched the momentum.

"I was heartbroken and thought a loss was coming our way," Rolyn Perez said. "But I couldn't let our team down. I saw the team was getting back up and when Eric scored on the penalty kick I knew we had a chance to come back and win."

Perez made the most of the extra time, dribbling past two defenders and taking aim from 12 feet away, slipping the shot past Episcopal goalie Braylon Smith in a gap the size of the ball.

Pedro Diaz scored twice and Hector Lopez added a goal against Cossatot River while Eric Perez netted two goals and Rolyn Perez added another in Monday's win.

Eric Perez put the Tigers on top 1-0 in the first half before Valley View tied the score. Perez added a penalty kick goal to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead in the second half and Rolyn Perez put the finishing touches on the semi-final win with his second goal of the event.

The Tigers will continue to practice this week in preparation for Saturday's showdown in Fayetteville, an outing James said Green Forest would be ready for.

"You expect a big game from them," he said. "It's going to be a close game. We expect their best and we are going to give them our best. We have to play good defense. It has been solid all year long. And the offense needs to take advantage of their opportunities."

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