Despite being mired in a poor run of three draws and a loss -their first defeat of the season coming ten days ago against Roseland Prep, the Panthers still had a chance of winning the league, or certainly of getting a top seeding in the post season, if they were to finish strongly in the final four games of the regular season. The team had now slipped to third place and faced league-leading Calistoga here in Boonville last Tuesday afternoon (Oct 18th).
Coach Sparks made a couple of changes to the starting line-up that had served the team so well until very recently and following an uncertain opening ten minutes or so, AV settled down and were the better team in a tense, hard fought game that featured many fouls and lots of physical play, some of it illegal on the part of the visiting Wildcats. The Panthers superiority was finally rewarded in the 27th minute when top scorer Elio Gonzales, returning to the line-up following injury, dispossessed a slow-reacting Calistoga defender thirty yards from goal and burst through towards goal form the left hand side before driving the ball low and hard into the far corner of the goal as the ‘keeper approached. 1-0 to AV and their first goal in about four hours of play!
Just six minutes later it was that man Elio again, taking the ball past a defender only to be brought crashing to the ground — a penalty kick to AV. Elio picked himself up to take the spot-kick, only to send it too close to the ‘keeper who palmed the ball away to safety. A very disappointing effort and one that could prove costly.
With ten minutes to go in the half it was Gonzales once again — this time dribbling past two defenders before hammering the ball goal wards from twenty yards out, beyond the keeper’s reach, only to see it crash against the post. It was still 1-0 AV at the end of a half that was generally dominated by AV.
The second half saw this pattern of play continue with several good chances being created and then spurned by AV as the Calistoga team wilted but would not break. They were becoming increasingly desperate and the large number of fouls committed by them led to a few yellow cards being issues by the overworked referees. With twenty minutes to go a red card was finally issued and the Wildcats were down to ten men. However, AV failed to take advantage and it was Calistoga who had the best chance of the half to score but their forward put the ball wide of the post when it seemed easier to score. The score remained 1-0 AV.
In the final minutes of the game a couple of good chances to put the game beyond doubt were missed as the percentage of shots to goals by the Panthers approached ridiculous levels. The Wildcats were defending desperately and even more aggressively than before so it came as little surprise when another red card was issued and they finished the game with nine players, plus their coach was given a red card for abuse of the referee as his frustrations finally boiled over. It was a good win for AV and, given their recent run of results, a very important one. Now they had to make sure all the effort was not spoiled with anything less than a victory at 4th-placed St. Vincent’s on Friday evening (Oct 21st).
Following the almost two-hour drive to Petaluma, the first thing noticed at the St. Vincent’s campus was that they play on an astro-turf surface, unlike any other team in the league. While this was admired by the Panther players, Coach Sparks knew it would give a strong home-field advantage to the Mustangs who play half of their games on this unique field. Furthermore, it was small, giving a further advantage to the home team who are overall a big slow team and thus one that struggles on large fields, such as the one at AV where the Panthers had romped to a 8-0 victory in the earlier meeting between the teams.
Well, unfortunately, the worst-case scenario happened and in an ugly game of little quality, AV never matched the intensity and desire of their revenge-seeking opponents. It was 1-0 to the Mustangs at the half and despite creating a couple of chances to draw level in the second half, it was St. Vincent’s who deservedly held on to the win and cause a major upset. The post-game meal at the ‘In and Out Burger’ was a somber affair although by the time the team arrived back in the Valley most of the players, while no doubt disappointed, had perked up enough to giggle and scuffle in the vans. The same could not be said for the despondent Coach.
Later that evening Calistoga lost 1-2 at home to Roseland Prep to virtually assure the Knights of the regular season league title for the second year in succession. However, with two games to go, it also meant that the Panthers were still just one point behind today’s opponents Calistoga in the race for the runner-up spot and the higher seeding in the play-offs — which would mean home field advantage through most, if not all, of the post-season. The one-point deficit makes the match-up in Calistoga a huge game that AV must win to get the all-important two points. The final regular season game takes place at Upper Lake on Friday evening. The play-offs will begin next Wednesday, November 2nd, when the players and coaches hope to see you either at Tom Smith Field alongside the high school or at the County Fairgrounds. That will be decided later this week.
Record (Won/Lost/Drawn): League 9 — 2 — 3; Overall 14 — 2 — 3. Goals: For 71; Against 13.