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Panthers Win League Championship

The postseason for the High School Boys’ soccer team began in earnest last Wednesday (November 13) with a home match in the quarter-finals against Geyser­ville, a team the Panthers had beaten twice in the regular season. Not for the first time in recent years, the squad was hit with news of ineligible players when it learned just an hour before kick-off that one of the key players had been suspended from school for a couple of days and would be unavailable for the match. Furthermore, the Geyserville team had played very well in the second of those earlier games and this would not be an easy match for the #1 seeded Panthers against the #12 Broncos who had already beaten the #4 and #5 seeds to get to this far.

Panthers2013On a sunny afternoon in the Valley, in front of about 100 fans, including a couple of classes that had been released from 7th period, all assembled at Tom Smith Field, the teams were introduced by AV Principal, Michelle Hutchins, followed by the singing of the national anthem and then the kick-off.

For the umpteenth time this season it seemed, AV dominated a game from the start in terms of possession. On this occasion the visiting Broncos were happy to sit back with a very defensive line-up presumably hoping to catch AV on a counter-attack. That might work if the defense can hold on for a significant amount of time and the Panthers become frustrated. But in just the eighth minute AV took the lead. Omar Solano on the left wing crossed the ball into the Geyserville penalty area where it was flicked on by Erik Martinez to just beyond the far goalpost ten yards from the goal where Moises Segura was lurking with scoring intent. As the ball bounced in front of Segura, he met it with a perfect strike on the volley that gave the goalkeeper no chance as it whizzed into the opposite corner of the goal. 1-0 to AV.

AV continued to play some very good soccer in the first half, but faced with such a packed defense they were unable to add to their tally and the Broncos were still in the game at half-time without producing any scoring opportunities of their own.

For the first ten minutes of the second half Geyser­ville finally threatened. With their best, but most ill-dis­ciplined player, now playing in attack they simply played long balls into the Panther half and hoped their striker could produce something. There were a couple of half-chances but unfortunately for them the forward, who had received a yellow card for a clumsy foul in the first half, received a second yellow for a dangerous tackle from behind on Panther defender Gualberto Gastelum and was ejected. Down to ten men, against a superior team, this was the “death knell” for the Broncos.

Sure enough, within a few minutes, AV added to their lead when Pancho Lievanos drove a low pass across the Bronco penalty area where it was met by Erik Martinez twelve yards out in the center of the goalmouth and the senior midfielder hammered the ball goalwards where the ‘keeper could only parry the ball into the net. It was 2-0 and no more than the Panthers deserved.

The game slipped into a period of mediocrity as the Panther players relaxed with their lead and Geyserville was unable to get anything going offensively. With ten minutes to go a few of the Panther bench players were introduced. This failed to generate any real excitement to entertain the fans but in the final minute Pancho Lievanos stormed into the penalty box past two defend­ers and was brought crashing to the ground by a third. Jose Gaxiola made no mistake from the ensuing penalty kick. 3-0 to AV — a somewhat ugly with a few moments of beauty; but an important win nevertheless.

* * *

And so it came to pass that last Saturday, November 16, saw the Championship Final take place at Tom Smith Field in Boonville. Kick-off time was at 1pm and the opponent was Drew High School from San Francisco, a team AV has faced a few times over the years in non-league matches arranged as a result of yours truly’s friendships with a member of Drew’s faculty and a few of their former coaches. However, the teams did not play this season and the teams seemed evenly matched based on results against same opponents, with AV perhaps being slight favorites. It would be a match-up of players from very different socio-economic backgrounds with the compadres from our rural public school facing the city boys from the private school where tuition is $38,500 a year! However, a soccer pitch is one of life’s level playing fields if ever there was one.

The game could not have begun any better for the Panthers. In just the first minute a ball was driven across from the right wing by Moises Segura to the corner of the Dragons’ penalty area. It was collected by Jose Gax­iola who immediately passed to the middle of the goal­mouth to the waiting Erik Martinez, just ten yards from the goal with no defender in sight, and the senior captain drove the ball low into the corner of the net past the exposed goalkeeper. A relatively simple goal and one for which the Drew defensive line was caught inexplicably asleep.

Once again, AV was the more attacking team but the often-seen flowing movements and rhythm of many of their performances were not quite there. It was a scrappy game with few scoring chances, although one of these fell to the main Drew striker, a fine player, who missed on this occasion but would cause concern on several occasions for the Panther back-four of Gualberto Gaste­lum, Abraham Sanchez, Efrain Gonzales, and Danny Espinoza. For every attack by Drew there were probably five by AV but the visitors’ defense, apart from that early error, held firm and it was still 1-0 to AV at the half.

The half-time talk emphasized the need to keep the ball and draw the opponents out of their defensive alignment and play with the confidence of a team that had won 19 matches this season. The players were showing some anxiety and seemed unable to relax and play their normal game. Despite the talk, the second half produced more of the same disjointed play although AV created two excellent chances to put the game beyond Drew and perhaps settle the home team’s nerves. Unfortunately for the nervous home fans, both of these were squandered and with 15 minutes to go Drew finally started to threaten an equalizing goal with several counter attacks as the Panthers backed off and settled on their narrow lead.

Despite this, AV ‘keeper Gerardo Torales was rarely called upon to make a direct save and, with Man of the Match Abraham Sanchez winning his battle with the dangerous Drew forward, the Panthers survived a few anxious moments and held on for the deserved 1-0 vic­tory. The roar that greeted the final whistle was one of both joy and relief, although the Panthers were certainly the better team on a day when they did not produce the standard of play that they have shown on so many occa­sions this season.

The Championship Trophy and individual medals were presented to the team as the fans cheered and I was doused in water in the time-honored tradition, despite being very aware of this possibility — these players are even craftier than I thought!

The celebrations went into the night around the Val­ley and, from personal experience, I know of at least two excellent parties that were held — one, for the coaches and friends, at The Buckhorn in Boonville, and another at the Gaxiola home at the north end of town attended by several players, families, and supporters. The season had ended with the program’s third Championship in four years and will be summed up in a week or so with a con­cluding article on the 2013 Boys’ Soccer team.

On behalf of the entire team and coaches, I wish to thank the community for their support.

2013 Season Record (won/lost/drawn): League: 14-2-1. Overall: 20-3-1. Goals scored: 106. Goals conceded: 13.

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