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PREP SOCCER: Three second-half goals lift Green Forest to 3A crown

by Mitchell Gladstone | May 21, 2023 at 3:39 a.m.
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CONWAY -- Green Forest has yet to match the levels of sustained success that the two high school soccer programs who won before them Saturday: De Queen's boys (seven titles) and Harrison's girls (eight titles, including five since 2014).

But after two championships and a runner-up finish over the past three seasons, the Tigers are beginning to sniff similar air.

Green Forest overwhelmed Haas Hall Bentonville on Saturday in the Class 3A boys soccer final at Estes Stadium, scoring three times in the second half to pull away for a 4-1 win.

The Tigers had lost to their 3A-West Conference rival twice this season but used their pace to threaten the Huskies' goal at will Saturday afternoon.

"Whenever it comes to games like these that are hard-pressed and very stressful, the first goal is very important," Green Forest Coach Adam Richter said. "Getting that first goal was good for us and it kept up our morale."

Richter wasn't a part of the staff two years ago, but he came on as an assistant coach last year when Green Forest (16-3-2) fell to Harding Academy in the 3A title game. He then bumped up to the head coaching gig when Eric Perez left for an assistant job at Siloam Springs.

The job this year, however, was made harder by the fact that Green Forest's roster featured just five seniors and six juniors.

Add in the fact that star forward Izaak Merida was at only about 50% for the final with a meniscus injury in his left knee and the difficulty amped up yet again for Richter.

But Merida managed to take some early pressure off both his head coach and his team with a 10th-minute goal. The senior eluded a charging Haas Hall goalkeeper and poked the ball between two defenders, knocking it off the left post before the ball trickled across the face of goal and into the right side netting.

Neither team seriously threatened the rest of the first half, but the Tigers got on the front foot immediately out of the break.

MVP Elvin Montoya set up Milton Ortiz for curling shot across the box and into the bottom left corner, putting Green Forest up 2-0 in the 48th minute.

The Tigers added two more goals -- one by Eric Salazar and another long-range strike by Edgar Duenas -- before Haas Hall Bentonville (14-5-2) managed a late score from Ameen Riyas.

Before he started celebrating just outside the stadium gates with family, friends and the Green Forest community, Merida slipped on his 2021 championship ring.

It was both a reminder of the goal the Tigers enter each season with as well as the fact they couldn't finish the job a year ago.

An injury, no matter how many minutes he could tolerate playing, wasn't going to stop him from adding a second ring.

"I had to play this game," Merida said. "My team needed me, so I went in there, I scored, I did everything I could for the team."

Print Headline: Three second-half goals lift Green Forest to 3A crown


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