The Cabot Panthers, playing without two starters, came up short in the first round of the Class 7A state soccer tournament, losing to Springdale 3-0 at North Little Rock Stadium on Thursday.
Cabot junior Hunter Richardson had not recovered from a concussion he suffered against Searcy and senior Blakelin Devore was sick.
Cabot started the game with seven sophomores on the field.
"We knew that the defending state champions would be a very strong team and we prepared a game plan based on defensive organization and courter-attaching quickly," Cabot coach Steve Porter said. "We realized that this game would be a lot different from our regular season games and we would not have the same amount of possession that we usually enjoy."
The Bulldogs led 2-0 at halftime on two goals by Roberto Castro. Springdale’s Alan Garcia added a goal on a penalty kick in the second half.
"The Springdale game was always going to be a big mountain for us to climb," Porter said. "They are the defending state champions and have a team full of talented upperclassmen and are favorites to win it all again this year."
Porter said his team is a smaller squad, comprised of mainly underclassman.
"I am proud of how well the boys competed," he said. "We made the game competitive and made Springdale play hard for 80 minutes. Considering that we lost two starting defender prior to the game, I have to say that we did remarkably well."
Porter said there were a number of excellent individual performances in the game.
"Everyone gave everything they had the entire time they were on the field and that is gratifying," he said. "As a coach, I cannot be prouder of the effort they have given me, not just today but every day. They came to after school practices every day with a willing attitude."
Porter said most of his roster does not play soccer year round.
"Yet we were able to be a very competitive team despite having few senior and junior players," he said. "I hope that the experience that this team gained this year will help transform them into an even better team next year."
The Panthers graduate only three seniors — Devore, Daniel Silva and Kyle Edgar.
"Those players will be missed next year but the experience and growth that the other players have gained will hopefully make up for those losses," Porter said.