Tigers avenge loss to CAC in 2019 final
If there was any team more motivated to make a deep run in the Class 3A boys state soccer tournament than the Green Forest Tigers, it would be a big surprise.
For starters, the tournament represented the last chance for Green Forest’s talented seniors to bring home a state title. Those seniors were sophomores in 2019 when the Tigers lost to Central Arkansas Christian in the state title game 4-0, then saw their junior season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They know,” coach Eric Perez said Monday. “They know that it’s one last chance. So they’re going to take advantage of it and give their all.”
As if the Tigers needed any more incentive, Perez was glad to oblige by flashing the state championship ring he won as a senior on Green Forest’s 2014 team that won the Class 4A tournament.
“I took the ring with me,” Perez said. “They didn’t know about it until that first game, before I gave that pregame speech, I was like: ‘Look at this, boys. This could be yours.’ Yeah, I think it’s working.”
All that motivation was more than enough as the Tigers rolled to three victories in as many days at Burns Park in North Little Rock, capped by a 4-0 win over CAC in Saturday’s semifinals, to earn a spot in the state title game. Green Forest will face Harding Academy at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 22, at the Benton Athletic Complex. That game will follow the Green Forest Lady Tigers’ girls championship match — also against Harding Academy — that begins at 2 p.m.
The Tigers’ offensive balance made the difference in the victory over CAC. With the Mustangs focused on stopping senior Emerson Ortiz, the state’s leading goal-scorer, classmate Lah Kpro found the net twice.
“He’s very underrated,” Perez said. “(The Mustangs) had done their research and they knew Emerson was one of the top scorers. So they double-teamed him, but that just gave more opportunities for the other guys.”
Ortiz also scored for the Tigers, along with junior Pablo Leon. Another junior, goalkeeper Fredy Juarez, kept the Mustangs off the scoreboard as Green Forest avenged that 2019 title-game loss by the same score.
“That was on their minds,” Perez said of the opportunity to get some revenge against CAC.
Green Forest reached the semifinals by defeating Cossatot River 4-0 in a first-round game on Thursday and then edging Conway St. Joseph 1-0 in Friday’s second round.
Perez said Green Forest controlled possession for most of the game against St. Joseph but missed several shots on goal. Ortiz scored the only goal of the game.
Ortiz scored two goals in the first-round win over Cossatot River, with classmate Blue Doh Soh and junior Andy Lopez adding one goal apiece.
Perez has a healthy respect for Harding Academy, saying the Wildcats are very fast and physical. But the key to the Tigers bringing home a state title, he said, is to play their own game.
“Our first instinct is attack, attack, attack,” he said. “No matter what, whether we’re up or down, we’re going to attack, attack, attack.”