Feel good story of the NCS soccer playoffs

It really shouldn’t matter what school you support, attend or simply root for in the Empire, if you love rooting for the underdogs, the little guys, then your attention should be on the Calistoga High boys soccer team at noon Saturday. That’s when the Wildcats will go against Branson for the North Coast Section Div. III boys championship at Marin Catholic High School.

“It’s been 10 years since Calistoga High has played for any sort of NCS title,” said the Calistoga athletic director Jake Blakeley. And that was 1999 when Blakeley, then the quarterback on the football team, led the Wildcats to an NCS football title.

“Now the whole town is excited and behind this team,” Blakeley said. “I think everyone but myself will be at Marin Catholic on Saturday.”

Blakeley has to stay behind to coach a previously scheduled junior varsity football game. “But I’ll be getting reports from the sidelines while I’m coaching,” he said with a laugh.

Calistoga (18-2-0) reached the finals as the NCL II South representative against Branson (14-5-5) by virtue of a 3-1 win on Wednesday at home against Marin Academy. “We were ahead 1-0 at halftime,” Calistoga head coach Carlos Garcia said, “but I was thinking halfway through the first half, ‘You know, we can beat these guys.’ ”

And he was right as his team scored twice more and hung on for the win before a crowd of about 600. Calistoga is led on offense by Mario Sanchez and Michel Arroyo.

Branson, representing the Marin County Athletic League, fell behind at Anderson Valley Wednesday night before rallying to advance with a 4-2 win.

“The team played as well as we’ve played all year,” Branson coach Tom Ryan told the Marin Independent Journal. “It was a pretty adverse condition in a hostile environment, in terms of energy. Their entire town was there against us.”

And it just might be that way on Saturday. Although the title game will be contested in Marin County, don’t expect a shortage of Calistoga fans.

“We are planning a team breakfast at 8 a.m. and then we’ll leave about 9 a.m. or so,” Blakeley said. “That’ll give us plenty of time to get there and warm up. We’re hoping that they can bring back that NCS pennant.”

For his part, Garcia doesn’t know what he’ll see when his team goes against Branson.

“I’ll talk to the St. Helena coach because they played Branson this year,” Garcia said, “but I’ll know more after watching them play for a little bit. Probably halfway through the first half I’ll know if we can beat them.”