DIAZ

Commerce's Eryck Diaz battles in the box against a Georgia Military player Tuesday (April 27) in the Tigers' 10-0 state playoff loss. 

A 10-0 loss wasn’t the way the Commerce boys’ soccer team wanted to go out, but the Tigers can still count their 2021 campaign as a benchmark season.

Commerce (6-9) won a playoff game, reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in its young program history and is set to return most of its roster for next year.

The Tigers’ season ended Tuesday (April 27) in Milledgeville at Georgia Military.

“We’ve only been around for a couple of years, but they’ve got to have that experience,” first-year coach Thomas Pee said. “We’ve got to have kids who have been through it … Just being here in this game is part of the building process for the program.

“I told them, ‘You’re pioneers, and if you can get to the playoffs and then get through a round, then you’ve done something that nobody has ever done.’ We achieved that.”

In last Tuesday’s defeat, No. 2-ranked Bulldogs built a 5-0 lead by the 39th minute of the contest over the Tigers, and then scored 20 seconds into the second half. Georgia Military (9-6) then added goals in the 60th, 61st, 70th and 76th minutes to end the game early with the 10-goal mercy rule.

“They’ve got three for four guys that are just better than anybody that we have,” Pee said, “and we just couldn’t keep up with them.”

The Tigers were missing Yahir Navarro, one of the team’s top defenders.

“We knew that was a deficit we were starting with,” Pee said. “We were trying to figure out the best way to fill that hole. Giving up the goals really early kind of set a tone.”

Considering where his team started the season, Pee is encouraged by where his team finished. Pee wasn’t hired until the week of Christmas and three of the teams’ top players were distance-learning students when practices began, leaving the team shorthanded at the onset. Some early games were canceled due to not having 11 players to field a team before additional players filled out the squad.

“Then we got it rolling, we got out there and won a game, and had a little success … We had a of fun with it,” Pee said. “I know there’s a lot of frustration (with the loss) but I think, overall, it was a really positive experience for these guys.”

Commerce loses two seniors off this year’s team, Navarro and Eryck Diaz. The Tigers hope to bolster next year’s roster by adding more current high school students as well as quality players rising from the middle school ranks.

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