It was the perfect scenario, the reigning Napa County Player of the Year looking like she was going to take it in herself, crossing instead to a fellow senior for a more high-percentage shot.
Nayeli Cervantes used her dangerous left foot to relay the Irais Hernandez pass from the left side toward the goal at a right angle, with no velocity lost. But like so many other shots from both the Vintage and Napa High girls soccer teams Friday night, it went right to the goalkeeper.
The save by senior Marissa Ramsey with 12 minutes left would be the last good chance for either team as the crosstown rivals settled for a 0-0 tie — their third straight after 1-1 Vine Valley Athletic League deadlocks last month and last year.
At least somebody scored in a girls Big Game this season. Five years ago, the teams battled to two scoreless ties. Vintage won five of the next seven Big Games, including 2-0 in last year’s first one.
Cervantes looked to have secured bragging rights this year for the fourth-place Crushers (8-9-3, 4-4-3 VVAL) even after her shot bounced up off Ramsey’s hands. The ball looked like it had another chance to drop in behind her, but bounced off the top of the crossbar and over.
“We put our best foot forward,” Vintage head coach Miguel Ayala said. “We tried our best. Things didn’t bounce our way. We had a good game plan, we had good tactics. The only part that was missing was finishing the plays.”
The bespectacled Cervantes looked up, held her arms out and let them drop into a clap, as if a golden opportunity had passed against fifth-place Napa (5-9-5, 2-6-3 VVAL).
“That’s not one of those plays you practice,” said Napa High head coach Milton Gallegos. “She shot it hard. Fortunately, it was close enough to to Marissa that she could react and just get her hand on it. There’s a saying in soccer that a goalie without luck is not a goalie.”
Though neither team had much of a chance of making the North Coast Section playoffs, they played as if the game meant everything. It was not a scoreless tilt spent in the midfield. Each team had a bevy of breakaways, corner kicks and free kicks, but their defenses were up to the task.
Even top Napa High scoring theat Ava Dominguez, the sophomore speedster who was coming off a hat trick in a 3-3 tie — of course — Wednesday night at American Canyon, couldn’t break free into one-on-one situations like she has so often. Not only did teammate Ramsey record a shutout, but so did Vintage junior Carla Magana.
“I’m proud of our defense for posting that zero,” Ayala said. “Usually we give up a goal just because of nerves, but today we put up a really good fight in front. I’m proud of the whole team.”
Napa had most of the shots in the second half.
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“We just tried to not let the emotion of the game get to us and just be calm and execute our game plan,” Gallegos said. “We tried to keep the moment in check and keep the emotions down and execute and try to get that one goal. Just like we know (the Crushers), they know our attack well and they took out our strong players.
“But I’m proud of these girls. They all played hard today. I tip my hat to Vintage. They came out and played us well. They got just as many quality shots as we did. It’s a rivalry game.”
But bragging rights have to wait until next season. Of Napa’s 13 seniors, only Sophia Conversano and Mila Valentine were on the 2017-18 varsity team that shut out Vintage twice.
“Obviously, I wanted a win for these seniors because they’ve been with me for four years and I really wanted them to have that win,” Gallegos said. “But at the end of the day, I think it was a fair result. Credit to what this game has become.”
A boisterous group of Napa High students in the lower bleachers behind their team created a raucous atmosphere down the stretch, and Ayala said the Crushers talked about it at Thursday’s practice.
“We always have a bigger crowd in this game, more noise — Napa had a 12th man over there — so the girls were well aware of what we were coming into,” said Ayala, who has seven seniors. “But as much as we talked to them about it, it always gets the best of us.
“I remember playing in this game myself, so I know exactly what they feel. We tied when I was a sophomore,” added Ayala, a former Vintage player. “It takes you about a half to really get settled in ready to play. There’s a lot of passion and friends that you’re playing against, you have more people here than usual, you’ve got the crowd going crazy, and you have refs influencing the game. It’s all those things.”
Ayala received a yellow card in the second half for protesting a call. Asked if his outburst was about the call or to pump up his team, he said a little bit of both.
“I was complaining about a call, but at the same time I was hoping that my girls would kind of feed off my energy, to take it to that next level,” he said. “Usually it works. It didn’t work this time.
“Even though we’re above them in the standings, it doesn’t feel like it until you beat them. My respects to Napa. They always show up to this game. It doesn’t matter who’s on what side of the table, this game is always like this. Sometimes it’s not pretty, sometimes it’s straight grit and guts and glory, but that’s just how these games are. You just play hard for 80 minutes and hope for the best.”
The Grizzlies will host Petaluma in their Senior Night game and season finale on Wednesday. Vintage will play in American Canyon’s Senior Night contest on Valentine’s Day.
Napa JV 3, Vintage 0
Napa High’s Haven Domecus scored twice for Grizzlies (13-5-1, 6-4-1), who led 1-0 at halftime, and Vintage scored an own goal.
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