Tigers lose hard-fought game on senior night

Tigers freshman Michael Samuels stops the ball and turns to pass it back to one of his open teammates up the field. 

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

The Greene County boys soccer team gave a strong effort last Friday against Athens Academy but a victory wasn’t mean to be.

The Tigers fell, 4-2, giving their senior night festivities a sour end. Before their game started, seniors J.T. Melton, Adrian Soto, Juan Lopez and Cristian Garcia were honored for their careers at Greene.

After the tough loss, the players were disappointed but not dejected.

“I felt like this was the most important game we played, and we played strong and hard,” Garcia said. “We never gave up. We kept pressuring, kept making plays. They were just the better team [Friday].”

The Tigers took a 2-1 lead into halftime and appeared ready to defeat the Spartans, who were undefeated in region games. Athens Academy battled back to tie the game with 34:54 remaining. The Spartans took the lead at 29:14 and posted their final goal at 18:56.

Greene seemed to find an offensive spark once it fell down by two goals. The Spartans struggled to keep the Tigers hemmed up on their own side of the pitch.

That tenacity was a hallmark of the Greene boys team all year. The Tigers seemed to face deficits in nearly every game but they were able to claw out a handful of comeback victories.

“The whole season, we've been faced with situations where we were down by a goal or two,” Lopez said. "We didn't let it affect us. We just kept fighting and showed what it is to be a Tiger. We don't let one or two goals intimidate us.”

Tigers head coach Dan Whelan noticed that late effort and commended his team for not quitting.

The difference in the game, Whelan said, came down to one thing.

“Athens Academy is so much better (at) supporting the ball,” Whelan said. “It's automatic for them; it's not automatic for us. We have to think about it and that two-second delay makes a difference.”

Friday’s loss was Greene’s seventh of the year and its second in a row.

The 2018 season began with much promise. The Tigers won four of their first six games and their only losses were to talented Prince Avenue Christian School and Putnam County teams, which had won a combined 20 games as of Monday.

Greene seemed to hit a wall back on March 13. It lost a 5-1 game at Georgia Military College. Since then, the Tigers lost five of their last six games entering this week’s contests, including shutout losses to Morgan County and Aquinas.

The Tigers’ region record was 1-5 entering play this week, which had them sixth in the region. Whelan wanted a playoff run with this year’s seniors but, because of the team’s recent string of losses, that won’t happen.

“We're, hopefully, a year away,” he said. “I was hoping to strike lightning in a bottle with these kids this year and it didn't work out.”

Greene’s seniors still leave behind notable careers. The school’s soccer team grew and flourished over the past five years or so, and they were an integral part of it.

“It's been great,” Lopez said of his career at GCHS. “I love it. You experience the ups and downs, but that's what makes the team better.”

Soto said he appreciated his time with the program because it helped him hone his on-field abilities. Garcia credited the program with helping him get the most out of his high school experience.

“It means a lot,” Garcia said. “It keeps me from being at home, being lazy. I can be out here running and just having fun with my teammates and classmates and enjoying my high school career.”

The seniors also leave behind a young team. Greene won’t have any seniors next year. Whelan said the seniors’ leadership will be missed but he’ll call on a few of the team’s rising juniors to take those roles.

Those leaving the team this year are confident in the future of the program.

“They're going to have some great kids next year,” Soto said. “Hopefully, they'll go way farther and do better.”

Of course, the 2018 season isn’t over yet. The Tigers played at Athens Christian this past Tuesday and they will face Lake Oconee Academy this Friday.

The Greene-LOA game will be played at Tiger Stadium in Greensboro, both teams’ home field, but LOA will technically be the “home” team for that matchup. Whelan said he expects that game to be a “barnburner,” much like it was last week when the Tigers and Titans went to overtime and LOA won on penalty kicks.

The Tigers will close the season next Tuesday at Lincoln County. Although they don’t have any playoff implications on the line, Greene’s players are going to give it their best shot to try and close the year with three wins.

“I think if we play the way we played [Friday] and just pressure harder and work harder in practice,” Garcia said, “we'll end this season with a winning streak.”

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