Panther Soccer: League Champs!

The AV Boys soccer postseason play-offs continued last week in Boonville at the home of the #1 seeded Panthers. The semi-final saw Tomales come to town on Wednesday afternoon in a rematch, the Braves having beaten AV in the regular season by a 1-0 score that ultimately cost AV the title as they finished second in the regular season standings behind Roseland Prep. That earlier game was dominated by the Panthers and was one AV should not have lost. This one was much the same. But…

The first 20 minutes or so was very disjointed with both teams unable to settle on the ball and keep possession. Tomales, as they had done in the earlier match, played six defenders instead of the usual four and were clearly hoping to catch AV on the counter attack. This worked until the 24th minute when Fernando Ferreyra’s pass was somewhat fortuitously deflected into the path of midfielder Moises Segura who, unmarked and ten yards out from goal, calmly shot low and hard into the corner of the goal past the desperate dive of the Braves ’keeper.

AV doubled their lead just four minutes later when a superbly placed cross by Gualberto Gastelum from his right back position was met in the center of the goal by Chirro Tovar who from eight yards out steered his header wide of the ’keeper into the corner of the goal. 2-0 to AV and the Panthers were seemingly in control of the match.

However, in the dying moments of the half, a needless foul on the edge of the Panther 18-yard box by one of the four defenders surrounding just two attacking players, left AV facing a free-kick from a dangerous spot. Despite the defensive wall being well-positioned, the shot around the edge of it took a nasty bounce in front of ’keeper Elvis Gaxiola and ended up in the net. The half-time whistle blew and Tomales had just been tossed a lifeline.

The second half was similar to the first in that AV dominated possession despite playing well below their best. They did, however, deservedly add to their lead in the 58th minute when Ferreyra gathered the ball around 30 yards from goal, took a couple of steps forward, and hammered a shot on goal that flew past the Tomales ’keeper and into the roof of the net. A great goal, 3-1 to AV.

Surely it was over? Not so.

Tomales continued to defend in numbers despite the score line and yet on one of their few forays into the Panther half, and with four defenders again facing just two forwards, a long cross eluded the back line and Gaxiola had to make a fine block of a low shot by one of the strikers. However, he was helpless to prevent the ball from rebounding to the forward who reacted much quicker than the defense and blasted it in. It was 3-2 to AV with eight minutes to go.

Fortunately, AV played smart and kept possession for much of that period and the Tomales team had little they could do about it. That was the final score and, while there was no doubt who was the better team, it had been what you might call an “ugly” win that saw AV through to the Championship game for the third successive season.

The Championship Game

On Saturday, November 15, Making Waves, a school from Richmond in the East Bay, whom the Panthers had never played before, came to the Valley to play AV for the postseason Championship. Other than being aware of the visitors’ excellent 21-1 record, little else was known about the Marlins.

The attitude and effort during the previous two days of practice had suggested that the Panther players were in the right frame of mind to play for the title and in the opening stages of the match this certainly showed. Playing on a lovely afternoon in the Valley with the sun low in the sky, right from the opening kick-off they fought for every ball and passed the ball around with great skill and confidence and in just the 8th minute they opened the scoring when David Eligio passed to Chirro Tovar on the edge of the Marlins 18-yard box to the right of the goal. Tovar’s burst of pace took him past two defenders before he hammered a low drive into the far corner of the goal past the startled “keeper. 1-0 to AV.

The game continued at a frantic pace with plenty of hard tackles and moments of wonderful skill. It was intense as both teams were spurred on by the loud participation of the two sets of supporters, approaching 200 fans. AV had a couple of chances to increase their lead but it was the Marlins who made the next breakthrough when, in the 28th minute, from a corner taken from out of the sun on the west side of the field, their striker rose higher than any Panther defender and nodded the ball past goalkeeper Elvis Gaxiola who was affected on the play by the glare of the sun. It was certainly a soft goal from a defensive standpoint, and one that resulted in a few minutes of tentative and disjointed play by AV for the first time in the match.

However, before the half-time they reasserted themselves, playing very well, so although it was honors even, the message from the coaches during the break was very simple: more of the same in the second half.

The game remained at the high level of play witnessed in the first half and the fans were even louder. It was a wonderful spectacle and a tremendous advert for high school soccer as both teams battled all over the field in their bid to gain the upper hand. Generally that belonged to AV and they had created and missed a couple of solid chances before another fine move resulted in Tovar being given a great chance to give AV the lead with a powerful shot from ten yards out that saw the Marlin’s ’keeper produce a magnificent save to push the ball onto the crossbar and out. With less than 15 minutes to go a key chance had been missed and overtime was looking a distinct possibility. However, a few minutes later, Marco Alarcon sent the ball out wide to Fernando Ferreyra on the left wing, 30 yards from goal. Ferreyra jinked inside past a defender and let fly with a very powerful low shot on goal. The ’keeper dived to stop the shot but could only parry it to where the predatory Tovar was on hand and from ten yards out the sophomore striker made no mistake as he hammered the ball into the net for his 32nd goal of the season, the team’s 100th, and most importantly the one that gave AV the lead with seven minutes to go.

The Panthers held firm and kept possession of the ball for most of the remaining minutes and when the final whistle blew, signaling the 2-1 victory, the home fans surged onto the field and the celebrations began. It had been a great game of soccer, very even in many respects but overall AV had deservedly come out on top against very worthy opponents.

The trophy presentations were made, the large water bucket emptied over the coaches” heads, hundreds of photographs taken, and it was hugs all around, before a wonderful spread of Mexican dishes and pizza suddenly appeared on the sideline prepared by the families of the AV players. a much appreciated and delicious bonus I have to say. That’s all for now. a look back and the summation of the season will appear next week but for now suffice it to say “Many Congratulations” to everyone connected to the Panther Boys Soccer program of 2014!

AV Soccer Champs, 2014
AV Soccer Champs, 2014

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