Panthers hold off Pumas, 2-1


Maria Carrillo's James Moberg, right, goes up for the header against Santa Rosa's Diego Leon, left, during Tuesday's game. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / THE PD)


Going back to basics — teamwork and energy — Santa Rosa evened its league record Tuesday with a hard-fought win at Maria Carrillo in boys’ soccer action.

The defending North Bay League champions have struggled to score and get wins, but the Panthers found both in the 2-1 decision over the Pumas.

“The hard practices are paying off,” said Diego Leon, who netted both Panthers’ goals Tuesday. “We needed to work on possession and passing. We’re a small team too, so we have to get stronger.”

Coming out fast and passing well on offense, Santa Rosa also played tight defense, giving Maria Carrillo few opportunities in the first half. Yet while the Panthers scored first, Maria Carrillo answered during a physical period extended by numerous fouls.

After withstanding a strong Pumas’ push to open the second half, the Panthers went ahead 10 minutes in and largely controlled play for the victory.

“It was a great win. But it’s only one step,” said Santa Rosa coach Jon Schwan.

At the midpoint of NBL play, Santa Rosa (3-3-1, 9-6-1) pulled within a game of Maria Carrillo (3-2-1, 8-3-3). With mostly evenly matched teams up and down the league, only Montgomery has emerged as a favorite.

“Nobody gets an easy game in this league, especially this year,” said Maria Carrillo coach Mike Mastin. “Tonight both teams played real hard. They took advantage of their opportunities, and we didn’t.”

Leon opened the scoring just six minutes into the game with a bullet of a shot from 25 yards out off a feed from Gerardo Suarez.

After a series of Maria Carrillo runs tested but didn’t dent Santa Rosa’s defense, the Panthers were back on the offensive. Working well with Leon up front was Arturo Camacho, and Suarez teamed with John McFarlin in the midfield to keep the pressure on the Pumas.

The Panthers were frustrated, though, by solid marking and defense led by Robbie Shepperd on the back line and both James Moberg and Coleman Badgley in the midfield.

Then on one of several Maria Carrillo quick counters, Cody Keating streaked up the right side and served a sharp pass to Marco Perez for a volley into the Santa Rosa net to even the game.

Maria Carrillo was quicker to the ball to begin the second half. Making repeated runs up the sides, Pumas’ midfielders served balls to the middle for open shots off angles. But the Pumas were unlucky as several went wide or headers by Taylor Shahi went high.

Finally solving Maria Carrillo’s game plan, Santa Rosa again limited the Pumas’ shots, with Will Parente and Forrest Beagel anchoring the back line.

After regaining their speed and ball control, the Panthers worked combinations for shots until Suarez and Leon hooked up a second time. Leon received the ball on the left side near the goal line and sent a strike 20 yards that Maria Carrillo’s goalkeeper couldn’t handle in traffic.

“I was just trying to drive it low for someone to tap it in. I wasn’t expecting it to go in,” Leon said.