NCS boys soccer: Panthers cap ‘rollercoaster’ year with title

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Anderson Valley boys soccer team scored a quick goal in the fourth minute, played the stellar defense that got the team this far in the first place, and beat visiting Leadership of San Francisco 3-0 in the North Coast Section Division 3 final Saturday to win its second championship in three seasons.

Two years ago, Anderson Valley had two-time Redwood Empire small-school player of the year Sergio Gutierrez. He scored 65 goals as a senior; this year, the Panthers scored 60 as a team. After scoring four goals against Sonoma Academy early in the season, they went 10 straight games with two or fewer, getting shut out twice.

This team had to grind out its wins. And the potholes weren’t limited to the playing field. A couple of players quit just before the season. Anderson Valley had to forfeit three victories when three players were declared academically ineligible, and practices frequently dissolved into bickering among the spirited Panthers.

“This was a rollercoaster ride with a sweet ending,” Anderson Valley coach Steve Sparks said.

Erik Martinez scored in the fourth minute Saturday to give the Panthers a rare early lead. Carlos Espinosa set up Martinez for a goal in the second half, and scored one of his own with about five minutes left to ice the game.

Sparks said it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving kid.

Espinosa, a senior, doesn’t usually start, but Sparks likes to play him because he’s a leader and a hard worker. On his goal, Espinosa beat the keeper to the ball about 35 yards from the goal, pushed it down the line a bit and sent a shot from the far left wing that just beat two defenders to the net.

“The crowd was going berserk,” Sparks said. “For Carlos, this was probably his last high school shot. Hollywood couldn’t have done it any better. Actually, Hollywood would have made it the deciding goal. We were up 2-0.”

Paced by all-NCL II goalie Christian Mendoza, all-league sweeper Justin Soto and freshman defender Abraham Sanchez, Anderson Valley (13-6-3) did not relinquish a goal in three playoff games.