The postseason for the High School Boys’ Soccer Play-Offs saw AV begin with a home quarter-final match at Tom Smith Field against South Fork, who had beaten Rincon Valley 4-1 in their round-of-16 match-up. The #1 seeded Panthers were favorites but at this time of the year every team is fighting hard to prolong their season and there are no easy matches. Furthermore, two Panther players were ineligible for the postseason as a result of poor grades, one of whom has been a significant contributor to the team’s success this season. Both are very remorseful, realizing they have let themselves and many others down. Hopefully they will learn from this lesson.
On a sunny afternoon in the Valley, in front of about 100 fans, the teams were introduced by AV High Principal, Michelle Hutchins, followed by the presentation of roses to these soccer-playing seniors, accompanied by their parents — Chuy Sanchez (team manager), Jose Gaxiola, Omar Solano, Erik Martinez, Danny Espinoza, Jose de Jesus ‘Pancho’ Lievanos, and Lalo Avalos. This ceremony was followed by the singing of the national anthem and then the kick-off.
AV dominated from the start, creating a number of half-chances and a couple of gilt-edged ones that should have seen them take the lead. Coupled with a series of top quality saves by the Cubs’ ‘keeper, one of which was the best seen all season by the coaches on the Panther sideline. These factors meant that the visitors were still holding on to a 0-0 score line when, from their first attack of the half in the 27th minute, they took the lead. Having counter-attacked down the right wing, they crossed the ball into the Panther penalty box where it took an awkward bounce and struck the hand of a Panther defender. Although it was “unintentional,” the referee was of the opinion that the defender gained an advantage by having his arm outstretched beyond the side of his body and gave a penalty kick. By the letter of the law he was perhaps correct — it is one of soccer’s several gray areas. The Cubs’ striker scored from the spot moments later — a goal that was greeted exuberantly by the 30 or so traveling South Fork fans. The Panthers were a little “shell-shocked” and when the half-time whistle blew several minutes later they were still a little out-of-sorts.
From a coach’s point of view, the home team had done little wrong and so more of the same, with a slice of luck and perhaps a little better decision-making was all that was needed to turn things around. By adding some vocal encouragement for each other that would show the passion that was bubbling inside and the result would hopefully be some goals against a team that was enjoying a charmed life up to that point — and with a goalkeeper who had been truly inspired in the first 40 minutes.
And so it proved. Just 30 seconds into the second half a ball over the backline of the Cubs by Danny Espinoza found Jose Gaxiola bursting through on goal. The Panthers’ leading scorer, who had missed two good chances in the first half, made no mistake this time, placing the ball wide of the exposed goalkeeper and into the far corner of the goal. It was 1-1. The Cubs began to wilt, hardly breaking into the Panther half at all, but the scores remained level and the tension remained despite the excellent support of the home fans who were willing the Panthers forward in a series of attacks that saw several chances go begging, along with two more great saves by the Cub ‘keeper.
Then in the 68th minute the deadlock was broken. Following a move that led to Moises Segura breaking through on goal, he was brought down from behind in the penalty box and a penalty kick awarded. There were no complaints from the South Fork players and Fernando Ferreyra, back on the Panther squad following the justifiable rescinding of his suspension, made no mistake from the spot. Just three minutes later the same player repeated the process after a Cubs’ defender had inexplicably handled the ball in his own penalty area and the calm Ferreyra put the game beyond doubt. 3-1 to AV.
In the final ten minutes, two more goals were added — a splendid effort by the hard-working Pancho Lievanos who ran through on goal from the halfway line after a fine pass by sweeper Efrain Gonzales, and calmly chipped the ball over the on-rushing goalkeeper; and a shot from close range by Moises Segura following a scramble in the South Fork box. It finished 5-1 and even the opposition coach sportingly acknowledged that the score line did not flatter the Panthers.
Up next is the semi-final: today, Wednesday, November 13 at Tom Smith field with a kick-off time of 2.30pm. The opponents will be old nemesis Geyserville whom the Panthers have beaten twice already this season, although the 2-0 win in the second meeting, just two weeks ago in the final game of the regular season, was far from convincing and AV will need to bring their A-game. If the Panthers are successful in this match they will host the Championship Game on Saturday, November 16, at 2pm against the winners of the Emery High School (Oakland) vs Drew High School. (San Francisco) semi-final.
If you enjoy all that is good about high school sports then mark the dates in your calendars and consider coming along and supporting the school’s soccer players as they go for their third post-season Championship in four years. Hope to see you out there. Come on you Panthers!
2013 Season Record (won/lost/drawn): League 14-2-1. Overall 18-3-1. Goals scored: 102 / Goals conceded: 13. Leading Goalscorers: Jose Gaxiola, 27. Erik Martinez, 18. Isidro Tovar, 18.