The new season opened last Friday evening with a return match against Drew High School of San Francisco who had visited Boonville this time last year when the home team Panthers managed to secure a narrow 3-2 victory. The team and coaches set off in two school vans at 2.30pm and had a fairly smooth journey down to the Bay Area with a stop at Safeway in Marin for snacks. Following this stop-off, the traffic delays approaching the Golden Gate Bridge slowed us down but this allowed the guys to take in one of the world’s greatest sights as we approached and drove across the famous landmark. I asked the players when the bridge was built (1937) and one guy was one year out with his guess of 1938. The one who said 1801 clearly needs to pay more attention in history class!
The game was played at Kimball Field, a brand new facility opened in June at Geary and Steiner Streets and this was the first sporting event to be held under the floodlights there. The match kicked off at 7.30pm with quite a few Panther fans in attendance, including Anastasio and Laura Gutierrez, Jose and Marlen Gaxiola, Omar Ferreyra, Mirla Gaxiola, Berta Mendoza, and other friends and family.
AV dominated the early stages as the Drew Dragons found it hard to get the ball into the Panther half. This pressure paid off in the 10th minute when a fine pass between two Drew defenders by Elio Gonzales found Sergio Gutierrez cutting in on goal from the right wing. Gutierrez took a few strides forward with the ball before blasting it past the ‘keeper from ten yards out. 1-0 to AV.
The Dragons came more into the game over the next twenty minutes or so, although with Junior Mendoza and Chava Gutierrez holding firm in the center of the A.V. defense, ‘keeper Christian Mendoza was not really unduly troubled. Then in the 29th minute, a sloppy back pass by a Drew midfielder was intercepted by S. Gutierrez who sent the ball past two defenders and was by them in a flash, even though they had a few yards start. Once again the All-Star remained calm as he bore down on the Drew goal before placing the ball firmly into the net past the defenseless goalie. 2-0 A.V. at the half.
The second half began with some pressure from the Dragons and some fine last ditch defending by the Panther back line against the bigger and physically stronger Drew players. However, with Junior Mendoza continuing to play a very strong game and the Panther midfield led by Hector Cruz and Kevin Espinoza, ably assisted by Chavo Eligio and Chuey DeJesus, the Dragons had to work for every ball and were always vulnerable to the counter attack by A.V. From one of these, a corner was won in the 59th minute and when the ball was not effectively cleared by the pressurized Drew defenders, it fell to Manny Almeida, making his first ever appearance for the Panthers, who blasted home from close range. 3-0 to the Panthers.
This was the signal for the coaches to start using the remaining players on the Panther bench and over the final twenty minutes all of these players got to contribute. However, as a result of all these changes, at times the Panthers’ play became a little scrappy and with a few minutes left the Dragons pulled a goal back when a speculative shot from twenty five yards found the far corner of back-up goalie Garrett Mezzanatto’s net. Nevertheless, it finished 3-1 to the Panthers — a thoroughly deserved victory.
The two school vans set off for home shortly afterwards, stopping at the In ‘n’ Out Burger restaurant in Marin to all sit down together for dinner. After the initial excitement of victory had subsided, for the reminder of the journey the vans were unusually quiet with most players dozing off at some point - it was getting late and certainly had been a long day. We arrived back in a chilly Boonville at 12.30am on Saturday morning, ten hours after departing in the warm sun - it had been a very successful trip on what will be our longest journey of the season.
The travels have only just begun though. This week we play for The Highway 128 Trophy at Cloverdale on Monday (Aug 30th), then down to open league play at Sonoma Academy on Wednesday (Sept 1st) as we begin our defense of the league title won last season, before completing the week at Calistoga on Friday (Sept 3rd) — potentially our most difficult game of the year against last season’s league runners-up. I shall report on all three of these matches next week. Wish us luck on our travels. Go Panthers!