Following the season’s disappointing first league defeat, 4-5 to Calistoga the previous Wednesday, and the unfulfilling forfeit made by Tomales in the next game, the Panthers were certainly ready to play and get back on track. Unfortunately for the perennial bottom team in the league, Rio Lindo of Healdsburg, they would be the proverbial ‘lambs to the slaughter’. AV had beaten them easily in the season’s earlier meeting and now the Spartans had come to Tom Smith Field in Boonville to face the fired-up local team. It was not pretty for the three Rio fans in attendance and their two coaches.
Despite using the bench players for long periods of play, the Panthers completely dominated and the Spartans had perhaps three forays into the AV half in the entire match. It finished 15-0 as the Panthers returned to winning ways with goals from Sergio Gutierrez (6), Hector Cruz (2), Jose Gaxiola (2), Juan Lua (2), Chuy Sanchez, Elio Gonzales, and Danny Espinoza.
Next up, last Friday afternoon (Oct 15th), it was a trip out to the coast to the windy and chilly climes of Point Arena where the Pirates always provide a tough match-up. This season they are currently fourth in the standings, certainly the ‘best-of-the-rest’ behind the Big Three of AV, Roseland Prep, and Calistoga. In the earlier meeting, the Panthers had run out 5-2 victors but the Panther coaching staff emphasized that Pt. Arena on their own dreadful pitch/dirt field were always a difficult team to play against and an upset was quite possible.
The Panthers started well and should have scored a couple of goals in the opening fifteen minutes but poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept the score at 0-0 until the 17th minute when the Pirates’ insistence on trying to catch the very speedy Sergio Gutierrez in their offside trap was finally undone. A simple chipped ball over the top of their back line by Chavo Gutierrez for his brother Sergio to run on to led to a one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Sergio rarely passes up those sort of chances and sure enough it was 1-0 to AV. Just two minutes later Sergio broke into the Pirate penalty area where he was clumsily brought to the ground by a defender. The G-man picked himself and calmly put the ball into the corner of the net from the penalty spot. 2-0 AV. The Pirates persisted with their offside trap and it hurt them once again when Sergio burst forward, timing his run onto a pass from Elio Gonzales perfectly, and it was 3-0.
The Panthers put the game beyond Point Arena in just the third minute of the second half when a fine interchange of passes between Gonzales and S. Gutierrez led to a simple tap in by Elio to make it 4-0. Elio then returned the favor in the 62nd minute, his excellent pass setting up Sergio for his fourth goal of the game and the Panthers’ fifth, with a last minute consolation goal for the Pirates leaving the final score, 5-1 to AV. With a couple of injuries to starters, the game saw the first road trip for both Sammy Alvarez and Juan Lua, who both played some minutes in the second half and there were significant minutes for the other bench players on the traveling squad, Eric Guerrero, Carlito Espinosa, and particularly Carlos Mendoza who had a fine game, playing all eighty minutes in the heart of the AV defense. Apart from the result, two other significantly positive events occurred — a very good new Mexican restaurant was visited for the post-game meal and a new team song, to the tune of The Graduation Song (‘Pomp and Circumstance’), was created on the ride there and back. A most productive few hours I would say.
FYI, Sergio now has 46 goals on the season and he remains on course (3 goals a game) to break his own single season school record of 59 that he set last year. (He actually ended up with a total of 64 in 2009 when goals from the three play-off games are included). He now has five regular season games to go in which to get the 14 goals needed to set a record that may never be broken.
This week, at the time of writing (Monday, 18th), the team was about to embark on a road game in Willits for the final non-league game of the season. These games are important in deciding seedings for the post-season tournament which the Panthers are hoping to qualify for by coming first or second in the league. The team will then go out to the coast to play Mendocino on Wednesday 13th, before hosting big rivals, undefeated Roseland Prep, on Friday the 15th, in a game that will decide this season’s league title. A.V. needs to win the game to virtually ensure a fifth regular season Championship in six years, but a tie or defeat will mean it goes to Roseland. The game will probably be very close, (the earlier meeting in Santa Rosa ended 3-3), and it goes without mentioning, but I’ll mention it anyway, that your support at Tom Smith Field for the 4.30pm kick-off would be greatly appreciated by the players who have worked so hard to get to this point in the season.
Current Record: League 12-1-1; Overall 14-2-2.