With a full roster for the first time in three weeks, including its first-string goalkeeper, Vintage blanked Napa High 2-0 in the first boys soccer Big Game of Vine Valley Athletic League play Tuesday night.
After a downpour during the junior varsity game at Memorial Stadium, the first half was physical stalemate until stoppage time.
That was when Cole Geschwender flicked a through ball to fellow senior Edgar Correa, who slotted it between Napa junior goalkeeper Edbert Casillas and the right post for a 1-0 lead with a minute to spare.
“It was a good play and I went for it,” Correa said. “Anything can happen in a Big Game. It’s about reaction time and who’s ready.”
Midway through the second half, reigning Napa County Player of the Year Oscar Loyola got a left-to-right cross from sophomore Gerardo Perez and punched it in for a 2-0 lead.
“I saw the opening, the defender was in front of me, and then just beat him to it,” Loyola said. “I looked for the space, just how our coaches train us.”
They were the first VVAL goals scored against Napa (6-3, 2-1 VVAL), which blanked Sonoma Valley 1-0 and Justin-Siena 2-0.
Napa threatened in the final minutes with a few corner kicks and a shot that went just over the crossbar, but Vintage senior goalie Carlos Ayala and defenders such as seniors Diego Cortez and Jesus Gonzalez and sophomore Angel Tapia kept the Grizzlies off the board.
“We tried to be as compact as possible and not give them space and mark their dangerous players,” Correa said of fourth-year varsity players Julio Alonzo and Juan Leon. “They were able to get through at times, but our defense held it down. This win was huge for us.”
It was the first league shutout this season for Vintage (10-1-2, 3-0-1 VVAL), which beat Casa Grande 3-1 and American Canyon 3-2 before Christmas and, last Thursday, saw visiting Petaluma come back for a 2-2 tie.
“Shutouts are hard to come by, and it’s a credit to everybody buckling down and taking care of their assignments,” said Vintage co-coach Alex Feliciano. “We went over a lot of tactical stuff yesterday, as far as what Napa might throw at us formation-wise, so we could all be on the same page. We defend as a team. It starts with our front man, Oscar (Loyola) pressing and goes all the way back through to our middle line and back line. It’s playing defense by committee, and we did that tonight.
“Napa fought hard and played us tough. They forced Carlos to make some big, big saves, and he saved us quite a few times there at the end. He was out of town the last few weeks, so our back-up goalie (Gerardo Fuentes) stepped up for us. A lot of our players go to Mexico during the break, and there were some games where we only had two or three subs and a makeshift lineup, guys playing different positions. We’re undefeated in league and it’s a credit to those guys that were here during those three weeks to pick up the slack for the guys that were missing.”
It was the first Big Game in seven years without cousins Rogelio Ochoa and Bernie Ochoa at the Napa High and Vintage helms, respectively. Assistant coaches took over for each – Rafael Ayala at Napa High, and Javier Covarrubias and Feliciano at Vintage.
“The good thing is it’s early in the season,” said Coach Ayala, whose team visits American Canyon on Thursday. “Vintage did a great job and got two on us. But we learned a lot about ourselves. Hopefully we get them next time. If we don’t, and we both still end up in the playoffs, hopefully we cheer for each other, highlight our league and show the rest of the North Coast Section what we’re about.
“There’s no shame in losing to a great program like Vintage. Javi and Alex are doing a wonderful job. For me the W’s are nice, but if we can help the kids go on to the next level and they can come and take our (coaching) jobs, that would be awesome.”
Loyola, who scored the first Big Game hat trick in 15 years in a 4-0 win last January, also scored in a 5-2 win over Napa last February.
“They always bring the same thing out on the table so we’re always ready, but it’s always a fight,” Loyola said. “We know it comes down to heart in these games. Technique goes out the window. Whoever wants it more, wins it. Our back line did great. They did what they were told. They shut down a lot of their key players and didn’t give them a lot of opportunities, and our keeper came through with a lot of good saves.”
Having four different Crushers notch goals or assists made it tough for Napa on the defensive end.
“We’ve got a lot of dynamic out there. If it’s not one guy, we’ve got three other options at least,” Loyola said. “You can’t stop us one way. It has to be a bunch of different ways.”
The Crushers defeated Napa for the fifth straight time, including twice each of the last two seasons when Vintage won MEL titles.
“We’re going for the three-peat,” Loyola said. “We’re trying to honor our past seniors who are on the sidelines watching us, trying to make them proud.”
It’s one thing to win in the MEL, where the Crushers were champions four of the last five seasons. But winning the VVAL, where they’ve had to adjust to a more technical style of play, would a feat in itself.
“We were in the MEL for a long time and it is quite a transition, but we’re ready,” Correa said. “We just try to play our hardest and play our hearts out.”
Feliciano and Covarrubias hope the Crushers are just as ready when they host Sonoma Valley on Thursday night.
“We’ll see how we approach that game mentally,” Feliciano said. “You don’t want to have a letdown from a Big Game performance and riding high on your horse. You have to know the season has a long way to go and to take it one game at a time.
“We were a little upset after our (2-2 tie against Petaluma); we were in control and we switched off and let them back in it. So this was a really good bounce-back game for us to get back on track. All good teams make mistakes, but the great teams learn to make them only once, and hopefully that’s us.”