By Justin Couchot, Chico Enterprise-Record
Entering Saturday’s Northern Section Division I boys soccer playoff match between Shasta and Pleasant Valley, Shasta coach Keith Stewart had two players he and his team were determined to shut down — Pleasant Valley’s Dante Jackson and Stefano Garcia.
First, the Wolves had to shut down the powerful leg and strong runs of the Vikings’ forward Jackson. After that, they could not allow fellow attacker Garcia, a sophomore, to make plays in open space.
The plan proved effective for Shasta, as the Wolves downed the Vikings 1-0 on Shasta’s home turf.
“(Scoring first) takes so much pressure of,” Stewart said. “You’re able to relax a little bit, not a lot, but continue to focus on your plan. You don’t have to press as much to try to do something you haven’t been training for.”
The lone goal came off the head of Braxton Fleming 10 minutes into the first half. Following a penalty, Jack Wenham crossed the ball into the box on a free kick and Fleming was there to head it past PV.
12′ GOAL Shasta. Braxton Flemming heads it in off a free kick by Jack Wenham. Shasta 1, PV 0 pic.twitter.com/CEkk0e2J8o
— Justin Couchot (@JCouchot_Sports) February 22, 2020
“It can be really hard when you go down early in a game like that,” said Pleasant Valley coach Nick Lopez. “You automatically feel more pressure and feel less composed and everyone can feel that. So as soon as that was scored you can feel the composure in our team went down.”
Lopez said that once his team fell behind, “it definitely made a huge difference for how the game ended up. Especially when we had plenty of time to equal things up and even go ahead.”
Once the Wolves got the early lead, they were able to channel their focus on their defense and keeping the two leading scorers for the Vikings off the board.
Pleasant Valley struggled to get its offense and any momentum going early. The struggle continued for much of the game.
“It’s gotta be more,” Lopez said at halftime, begging his team for all the effort they had left in the tank.
In the second half, PV possessed the ball much more, but still could not get anything in the back of the net.
“We were in their half the whole time but they just had seven or eight guys behind the ball at all times like a wall,” Lopez said. “So it was hard to get our offense going.”
Seventeen minutes into the second half, another Viking captain came off the field. Senior Tanner Weast said that he asked the ref, ‘Why did you call that?’ following a penalty on the Vikings. He was flagged with a yellow card, the third of four on the day for the Vikings.
The call forced the PV coaches to take the midfielder off for much of the second half. Tanner Weast returned with roughly 10 minutes to go in the second half, however, it was too little too late for the Vikings.
With 10 minutes to go, PV tried to make one final push as Tanner Weast re-entered. Lopez insisted to his team that they stay in the game.
Two minutes later, the Vikings got arguably their best chance all game. Jackson sent a throw-in into the Shasta box to Dominic Velasquez, whose header sailed just over the crossbar.
“We tried so hard in the last minutes because we were looking at the time and it was really frustrating because we were trying to go, go, go and we had the ball a lot,” said PV defender Tony Martinez. “As a senior, I feel so bad because it was one of our last games and we worked so hard for this.”
Now, Pleasant Valley will host Red Bluff Tuesday in a play-back game to determine who goes to the CIF Northern California Regional Championships.
“We were off our game a little bit this game,” Tanner Weast said. “We weren’t possessing as much. We were just playing kickball kind of in the first half. It was bad.”
Shasta awaits NorCal CIF playoff seeding Saturday.
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