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WINDSOR – The Calistoga boys soccer team had victory snatched away from it in the final minutes of regulation before falling to College Prep 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the CIF North Coast Section Div. 2 playoffs at Windsor High School on Saturday.

The No. 2-seeded Wildcats took a 1-0 lead off of Christian Caldera’s goal in the opening minute of the game but couldn’t find the back of the net for the remainder. No. 7-seeded College Prep finally broke through in the closing minutes, scoring off a corner during extra time to even the game at 1-1 and force overtime.

With golden goal rules in effect and all the momentum with the Cougars, College Prep turned the intensity up and scored in overtime to complete the stunning upset.

“At the end of the day it came down to which team could take advantage of their scoring opportunities and they took the upper hand,” Calistoga head coach Danny Almanza said. “We were able to fight back and keep the lead until the final minutes of aggregate time.

“I am very proud of the way the guys played. They played with a lot of heart and they represented their town with honor. They should keep their heads up after a performance like that. This is the hardest working group of athletes that I have coached so far.”

It’s a brutal ending for Calistoga, which finishes its season at 15-3-2. It’s the Wildcats first loss since Sept. 27 when they fell 2-1 to Head-Royce, the No. 1 seed in the Div. 2 bracket. The Wildcats had also already beaten College Prep (13-6-1) this season 3-2 back on Sept. 5 and entered Saturday as the heavy favorite.

“This group will be the eternal ‘what if’ group,” Almanza said. “This year we had a lot of talent at our disposal, more than we could have ever imagined. For circumstances that were out of our control, we were never able to field that ‘super team’ that we had planned out since last year. Had things gone our way, I can safely say that this team was built to reach the section final. But now we will never know and all we can do is keep our heads up and keep on working really hard to prepare for the seasons to come.”

On Saturday, they took control from the onset thanks to Caldera’s goal. Isaac Garcia sent a bouncing through ball pass to Caldera, who snuck past College Prep’s back line and sent an uncontested shot into the goal 50 seconds into the game.

The Wildcats dominated the first half. They allowed only three shots from College Prep in the first 40 minutes and made the Cougars play back on their heels as they applied constant pressure on goal.

The intensity picked up after the half and two yellow cards were doled out, one to Garcia and the other the Cougars’ Jackson Ho. Calistoga’s Mario Avina also received a yellow in the first half.

College Prep’s offense found a rhythm and made Calistoga goalie Jose Lopez work for every stop. In the 51st minute, he safely snagged a 20-yard shot from College Prep, but faced more difficult saves minutes later. In the 64th minute, Lopez stepped out to punch away a College Prep cross in front of Calistoga’s goal, but collided with another player on the play and crumbled to the turf. The ensuing College Prep shot on the empty net sailed wide. Lopez was shaken up on the play and left the field for several minutes before returning to relieve Manuel Garcia in goal.

But the play almost repeated itself in the 78th minute on a College Prep free kick. Lopez once again came out to punch the ball away and once again collided with a College Prep player. This time, it was the Cougar who went down and ended up leaving the game.

Just before and then again in between those two close calls, Calistoga had two near chances of its own that came up empty. In the 56th minute, Caldera received the ball on a breakaway but was stopped at the last second by College Prep goalie Darius Zucker. Then in the 72nd minute, Caldera broke away again and managed to get an open shot off, but it went right to the body of Zucker who corralled it to end the threat.

College Prep made Calistoga pay in extra time as a rebound shot from Grant Konkel off a corner found the back of the net to send the game to extra time, where College Prep finished off the Wildcats.

While Calistoga has now made three straight section tournaments under head coach Almanza, this is the second consecutive year that Calistoga has been eliminated from postseason play in the quarterfinals. As the No. 3 seed last season, the Wildcats fell 2-0 to No. 6 seed Drew.

Calistoga graduates four key players from this year’s team. The Wildcats say goodbye to Erick Mendez Garcia, Mario “Gio” Avina, Abad Cuenca, and Manuel Garcia.

“We will definitely miss this group of seniors,” Almanza said. “Athletes like Manuel Garcia and Mario “Gio” Avina are very hard to come across and they don’t come around often. They both helped this program win two CMC NCL II League titles, in 2015 and again this year in 2018. They both have dedicated many hours of hard work to this team in the past four years and their consistency made them top players for our program. Manuel and Mario are very coachable and are always willing to listen and take feedback to keep on improving.

“They are a perfect example to the rest of the athletes that will return to play next year.”

Almanza added that despite how this year ended, the Wildcats are poised for more deep runs in the coming years.

“The future of Calistoga soccer is still very bright and there are still many reasons to be optimistic about this group,” he said. “Now more than ever, Calistoga has become a constant candidate to take not only the league title but also to take the section title, after being one of the top seeded teams in the past 4 years.”

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Sports Reporter