The Wildcats from Calistoga High School were the visitors to Tom Smith Field in Boonville last Wednesday (Oct 6th) afternoon to play what would be a pivotal game in deciding the eventual league championship. Together with Roseland Prep, both AV and Calistoga have dominated the league in recent years and once again they currently occupy the top three positions with fourth-placed Point Arena some way back as the final third of the season approaches.
Calistoga may have counted themselves unfortunate to not get at least a draw in the earlier meeting between the teams when the Panthers’ excellent defensive effort secured a 2-1 victory and on this occasion they could not have started any better. In just the 3rd minute, following a corner that was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area, a fine shot towards the corner of the goal, where a Panther defender had left his post too early, found the net and it was 0-1 to Calistoga. Just six minutes later it was 0-2. On a counterattack, a Wildcat forward received the ball twenty yards from goal where he was quite clearly offside. However, the assistant referee’s flag stayed down and the striker was allowed to move in on goal and place the ball over Christian Mendoza’s outstretched hand and into the net. The goal was allowed to stand despite the justifiable protests from the Panther sideline.
The goals had stunned the Panther players and fans alike and for several minutes the team could not settle into any rhythm whatsoever. However, in the 17th minute, they won a free-kick from just inside the Wildcat half and from Chuy Sanchez’ long driven cross, Sergio Gutierrez rose to head the ball high and looping over the Calistoga ‘keeper and into the net. 1-2 to the Wildcats.
The next 20 minutes saw a tight game with both sides limited to very few scoring opportunities but then in the 38th minute, following a couple of quick passes out of defense and then down the wing, Elio Gonzales fed the ball in to Sergio G. just to the right of goal and about twenty yards out. As he has so many times before, Sergio burst past two defenders before firing low and hard past the ‘keeper — it was 2-2 and there was still a couple of minutes left in the half. That was all the G-man needed as two minutes later he took the ball into the Wildcat penalty area and after beating two defenders a third one hacked him to the ground. It was a penalty kick that Sergio calmly dispatched into the bottom corner of the net. 3-2 to AV. Then in the dying seconds of first half stoppage time, freshman Jose Gaxiola cut in from the left wing and laid the ball off to Sergio on the edge of the area and the Panther striker hammered the ball first time into the corner of the goal from twenty yards before the ‘keeper could move. It was breathtaking stuff and at the half it was 4-2 to AV, who had come back from 0-2 down, all four goals from Sergio Gutierrez. Amazing.
However, this Calistoga team is one of their best over the past five seasons, so the game was far from over. Despite warnings from the Panther coaches about being extra diligent defensively in the opening 15 minute of the second half it was to no avail. Twice in that period, the Wildcat midfield star, Michel Arroyo, ran through some weak tackles to first score one goal and then create another for a teammate as the Wildcats bounced back to draw level at 4-4 with twenty five minutes still to go. The Panthers were once again shocked and were in danger of conceding more but, with Chava Gutierrez, Manny Almeida, Chavo Eligio, and ‘Cameron’ Murillo across the back line in front of Christian Mendoza in goal, they stood firm and the game was evenly poised.
Both teams had half chances to regain the lead but in the closing stages the bigger, physically stronger and, perhaps most important, the more experienced Wildcat team began to dominate possession. With just three minutes to go their efforts paid off when, following a scramble in the Panther goalmouth, the ball ran free to a Wildcat striker who blasted home from five yards out. It was 4-5 to Calistoga and despite a fine shot in the last seconds from Omar Solano that needed a splendid save from the Wildcat ‘keeper to keep the ball out, Calistoga hung on to win, and hand the Panthers their first defeat since August.
The 'post-mortem' was inconclusive. AV has an inexperienced and very young team — three of the four defenders have not played for the high school before this season and there are three starting freshmen in a four-man midfield and only one senior starter — albeit the league’s MVP Sergio Gutierrez, plus the Panthers have a very inexperienced bench. Calistoga meanwhile has several seniors in the starting line-up and have a much stronger bench. These are reasons not excuses and it must be said that on any day either team can beat the other, and quite simply, AV were beaten on this day by Calistoga and there is little else of significance that can be added at this point. It’s football/futbol/soccer, not rocket science. It’s far more complicated than that!
The Friday game at Tomales was cancelled as they have terminated their soccer program so the next game is this afternoon (Oct. 13th) here in Boonville against the lowly Rio Lindo at 4.30pm, before the team travels to Point Arena on Friday (15th) for a testing match-up against the 4th-placed Pirates. This will be followed by another road game on Monday afternoon (18th), this time at Willits in an important non-league game that could impact seeding position in post-season play. ¥¥
(Current Record: League 10-1-1; Overall 12-2-2.)