Tigers eager to defend their crown; Rematch looms in semifinal round

Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Elvin Montoya (17) and the Green Forest Tigers will face Cave City in the first round of the Class 3A boys state soccer tournament at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Anstaff soccer complex in Harrison.
Charles Chappell / CCImages.PhotoShelter.com

The 2022 soccer season has been about one thing for the Green Forest Tigers: getting back to the Class 3A state tournament and defending the state championship they won a year ago.

On Thursday, the quest begins in earnest.

Green Forest (17-2) will face the Cave City Cavemen (6-10-2) in the first round of the Class 3A tournament in Harrison. Bergman is the host school for the tournament, which will be played at the Anstaff soccer complex on Arkansas Highway 7.

Green Forest has won its past 14 games — including wins last week over Haas Hall of Fayetteville and the Thaden School. The Tigers also are finally fully healthy, coach Eric Perez said Monday, and the injury bug that plagued Green Forest throughout the regular season might turn out to help the Tigers in the postseason.

“I think depth will be a key,” Perez said. “It’s frustrating to have the injuries but the players that have stepped up have gotten more playing time, and they’ve improved.”

In fact, Perez said, some of the starters who have been sidelined by injuries might not get their starting spots back immediately.

“It’s not fair to the guys that stepped up,” he said. “But (the players coming back) don’t care if they start or not. They just want to help the team win.”

During its 14-game winning streak — since a 1-0 loss to Berryville on March 14 — Green Forest has outscored its opponents 105-11 with eight shutouts.

Cave City might not offer much competition in the first round — the Cavemen were 3-10-2 before winning their past three games — but returning to the state title game won’t be without its challenges for the Tigers.

Green Forest’s two state titles in the past eight years are the exception for public schools in Arkansas prep soccer. The sport has been dominated by private-school teams and this year’s 3A boys bracket reflects it. The 16-team field includes seven private-school teams. If Green Forest advances past the first round it will face the winner of Thursday’s matchup between Little Rock Episcopal and Maumelle Charter. Looming in Friday’s semifinals is a potential date with Harding Academy — the team the Tigers defeated 2-0 in last year’s state title game in Benton.

“That’s pretty much the final, in my opinion,” Perez said Monday. “If we get to that game, I think that’s the final. That’s just the way it is. I know (Harding Academy is) going to want it.”

The Tigers got a little added experience playing away from home last week. With wet weather affecting field conditions at Tiger Stadium, Green Forest moved to Berryville’s Bobcat Stadium for its 7-2 win over Haas Hall on Monday, May 2, and a 2-0 victory over Thaden the following night.

Izaak Merida scored four goals in the win over Haas Hall and had both scoring kicks against Thaden.

Perez rested his starters for most of the game against Thaden, but he won’t be holding them back once the state tournament begins.

“We’re ready,” he said Monday.

Thursday’s game is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

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