By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Roseland University Prep’s greatest season has taken the Knights to a small-school title game after controlling a dangerous Calistoga squad Wednesday.
Goals by super sophomore Jose Ramirez, an organized defense that rarely relented, and dominant midfield play produced a 2-0 win. Roseland Prep keeps going on the school’s deepest run ever in the North Coast Section playoffs.
“We were just on it,” Ramirez said. “Once we scored our first goal, we gained more confidence. We just shut them down.”
Score early and keep the pressure on was Roseland Prep’s aim. The Knights could improve on finishing chances, but showed few weaknesses in advancing to the section Division 2 championship against Marin Academy on Saturday.
With three playoff wins, Roseland Prep needs one more for its first section title. Marin Academy has six section boys’ soccer championships, the last coming two seasons back.
“We tried to stand them up. They just played a great game,” said Calistoga coach Carlos Garcia.
Sharpest in the second half, Roseland Prep responded to coach Tino Fonzeca’s critical review of a sometimes uneven first half.
The Knights improved on building possessions and keeping Calistoga from gaining any momentum.
The clinching score came off playmaking that captured what Roseland Prep does well.
Repeatedly the quicker Knights cut off Calistoga clearing attempts by winning ball battles in the midfield. Alex Morales, perhaps the smallest player in the game, picked off a line drive and quickly served to Enrique Sanchez, another small yet fearless Knight.
Pushing down the left side and scooting past a defender, Sanchez tapped a pass across to Ramirez. The skilled forward with the strong boot hammered a low, hard shot into the left corner for the game’s second score.
“They may be small, but they can fight,” Ramirez said. “I just work to get open for my teammates.”
Helping the Knights keep the pressure on was a disciplined defense that stayed together on the back line to thwart Calistoga possessions. Daniel Cortez anchored the middle. Rodrigo Estrella was quick on counters.
Bottled up and frustrated much of the game were Calistoga forward Oscar Espinoza and playmaking midfielder Ricardo Carrillo. The Wildcats managed one shot on goal in the second half.
“Calistoga is a quality team. It’s always a dogfight between both of us,” Fonzeca said.
While the Wildcats played well for moments, they couldn’t connect enough to control play. Calistoga’s best stretch came toward the end of the first half when getting open for serves and to the end line for crosses.
“My boys put in a lot of effort. We did much better than what I expected,” Garcia said.
Few teams, though, can match Roseland Prep’s depth and fitness. With skills to match, the Knights are strong across the field.
Two consistent playmakers with sure passes were midfielders Michael Iturbe and Gerrardo Garcia. Roseland Prep’s first goal was set up by Garcia, who drew out the Calistoga goalkeeper to set up Ramirez for an easy finish.
Roseland Prep is even stronger with Garcia back in the lineup after missing part of season.
“I had to practice hard to earn my position back,” Garcia said. “The team has worked hard for this. We didn’t see it coming.”