NCS girls’ Div. I title: Casa Grande plays spoiler to win NCS title and end Pumas’ unbeaten season

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“Soak it up, Casa,” Gauchos’ girls’ soccer coach Vinny Cortezzo told his players after they had claimed their third North Coast Section Div. I title in the past four years with a 2-0 victory over Maria Carrillo.

Casa Grande's Nicole Stave, left, and Christina Rebata, right, celebrate after winning the NCS Championships held at Santa Rosa High School, Nov. 13, 2010. Casa Grande beat Maria Carrillo 2-0. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / THE PRESS DEMOCRAT)

And that they did Saturday night at Santa Rosa High. While the top-seeded Pumas watched, stunned and tearful, the Gauchos nearly exploded with glee after pulling off the upset.

Casa had hoped for a No. 2 seed in the NCS playoffs but got a No. 3, then had to hear all about the Pumas, who entered the game 19-0-1.

“It’s sort of something we rallied around,” Cortezzo said. “They’re an excellent team. We have a lot of respect for them and their ability. But we always believed in ourselves.”

Casa Grande had a lot to believe in, including a cast of 13 battle-toughened seniors. Nine of them were playing in their fourth consecutive NCS championship game. The Gauchos also had outscored opponents 16-0 in three playoff games.

Make that 18-0 now.

In the 26th minute, Casa’s Christina Rebata found herself marked on a breakaway, so she passed ahead to junior Nicole Beecham, who was taken off her feet by the physical Yvonne Metz. The Gauchos got a penalty kick 10 yards in front of the Carrillo net.

Senior Margi Osmundson then elected herself to take the shot.

This is the way it works for Casa Grande. Cortezzo has four or five girls he favors for penalty kicks, and they sort it out for themselves, without so much as consulting the coach.

Someone always steps forward.

This time it was Osmundson, and she put the ball in the upper left corner of the net, where Carrillo goalkeeper Emily Sellner had no chance for it.

“We were dominating that game, and unfortunately a PK shifts that momentum,” Pumas coach Debra LaPrath said. “You hope it doesn’t and it’s just one goal, and they’re used to fighting back from one goal. But the call on that PK on that play was just unfortunate.”

Cortezzo saw it differently. “I think if (Metz) doesn’t make that foul, we score on that play anyway,” he said.

The Pumas have been down before this season, and have always found a way to climb back. But their road got rougher inside of first-half stoppage time, when Sellner and Ali Schaffer miscommunicated on a ball in the box, and wound up bumping into one another as they tried to cover it.

Casa Grande’s Beecham alertly jumped in and sent the ball into the net. It was 2-0 Gauchos, and it wouldn’t get any closer.

“We’ve been in this situation multiple times,” Beecham said. “The girls have told us about this. We talked about it, and we were preparing for this, and we wanted it.”

After the game, the Pumas weren’t just downhearted over watching their undefeated season fall apart on the final day. They were frustrated over all the opportunities they missed.

In the 13th minute, Cami Rencken blasted a shot from about 20 yards out, and Casa’s sophomore goalie Emily Sewall could only watch as the ball caromed off and over the crossbar.
In the 15th minute, a flurry of shots in front of the Casa goal, precipitated by Kendra Corsberg’s long throw-in, each missed in a different way. They included a tap-in off the crossbar that some Maria Carrillo players insisted afterward had scored.

Later, in the 62nd minute, the Pumas’ Katie Mohr sent a long header over a defender; Sewall had to come out of the box to knock it away, and Carrillo’s Sara Tosti then sent a long kick toward the empty net. It sailed wide right.

LaPrath rued the missed chances, but had only admiration for her young players.

“The seniors said it best,” she offered. “As long as you felt like you left everything on the field, then you have nothing to be ashamed of or upset about, because it was an amazing season. Amazing.”

Maria Carrillo’s Victoria Kovatch left the field on a cart in the second half, but was diagnosed with a sprain rather than a fracture.

Things got a little ugly in second-half stoppage time, with three yellow cards in a short period of time, including one of Sewall for taking too long to retrieve a ball out of bounds.