The Panthers’ soaring season crashed dramatically last week when they were beaten 2-0 by arch-rivals Calistoga and were eliminated from the play-offs. Following postseason Championships in five of the previous six seasons, AV had moved up to the Big School Play-offs and, given the experience and ability on the team, it was felt by many that a postseason title was again within their grasp despite the higher quality of the opposition they would be facing.
However, it was not the quality of the opponents that resulted in the quarter-final loss last Saturday afternoon here in the Valley at Tom Smith Field. Although Calistoga fields a fine team, they had been beaten just two weeks earlier by AV, but that was before nine members of the Panther squad, including six of eleven starters, were suspended from further participation on the team following their simple-minded decision to drink whisky on the school bus during the ride home to the Valley after the final regular season game in Santa Rosa. The rules are simple — there is a zero tolerance of alcohol and drugs on campus or in school vehicles, and therefore all nine were suspended for five days from school and 45 days from extra-curricular activities — including all sports.
As a result, six of the 11 players starting in the play-off match had not featured at all in the earlier victory against this same opposition. Those six, plus the remaining starters who had not taken part in the misbehavior on the bus, faced a fired-up Wildcat team in front of what was initially and understandably a subdued Panther home crowd, still reeling from the news of the suspensions. The coaches had come up with both a solid game plan and formation to try and keep the game within reach and there was certainly a very positive attitude in the huddle before the kick off. Throughout the first half the spirited performance of these 12 ‘angry’ yet passionate and determined student athletes soon had the home town fans backing them enthusiastically. As a coach I could not have asked for more from the players, or the fans. The Panthers more than matched Calistoga and should have had a two-goal lead only to fall a goal behind from the very last kick of the half.
Then, in just the third minute of the second half, a lucky deflected shot unfortunately eluded ‘keeper Isaac Sanchez in the Panther goal and, now down 0-2 against an experienced Calistoga team, AV were facing a huge mountain to climb. With only one bench player available, tiredness began to set in and it was hard for AV to exert any real pressure on the Wildcat defense. However, to their credit the players kept fighting for every ball and when the final whistle blew they had left their all on the field and were exhausted. There were tears, there were hugs, there was sincere mutual applause between players and supporters. It was the end of a very successful season and the twelve players who wore the Panther shirt on this day should be very proud of their efforts. They were:- Gerardo ‘Harry’ Torales, Isaac Sanchez, Christian Guerrero, Nati Alvarez, Carlos Hernandez, Ulises Garcia, Omar Mendoza, Christian Espinoza, Juan Reynoso, Alan Gonzales, Johnny Magaña, and Alexis Solano…
I do not feel that this is the time to discuss the events that took place over the days leading up to the game. At this point the focus should be on the players who played so valiantly. However, I would like to take the time to express my gratitude and appreciation for the families and fans whose support is great appreciated by myself and the team. As those of you who read this column every week during the season will know, I believe that your presence and vociferous support is a tremendous boost to the players. We thank you.
Overall Season Record: (W/L/D) 19-4-1