State champs nip Whittell soccer team |

State champs nip Whittell soccer team

Mike Traum

Coaches will say there is no such thing as a moral victory.

But if a defeat was ever worth more than just chalk in the loss column, the Whittell High boys soccer team proved it Tuesday. The Warriors fell valiantly to defending state champion Truckee, 2-1, in Zephyr Cove. Whittell had previously lost to the perennial-power Wolverines, dating back to last season, 1-0, 9-0 and 2-0, respectively. Tuesday’s loss snapped a nine-game Warrior win streak.

“It was a big game for us, but it wasn’t a must-win. It showed, though, that we can play with a state championship team. And they were scared,” said Whittell junior midfielder Dusty Apocotos.

He was right. After a scoreless first half, filled with brutally tactful defensive play on both sides, the stage was set for an action-packed final 40 minutes. Whittell coach Steve Maltase vocally encouraged his troops to play hard as the half opened. But it was the Wolverines who struck first, as the Warriors struggled to clear their own end.

Just five minutes in, Truckee’s Tom Hernandez collected a ball that trickled just inches away from keeper Jesse Rizzo and booted in the ice breaker. There was some discrepancy as to whether Rizzo had simply dropped it or if he lost control after being pummeled by Wolverine feet. Rizzo saw it one way; the referee had the opposite view and allowed the goal.

“I had possession of it, but I was getting kicked in the head. Once that was happening, my hands just automatically let off the ball and I lost it,” said Rizzo, who received a warning for excessive “talking” after the play and had to sit out for a possession.

The momentum swing could’ve easily zapped the Warriors’ fight. But it served to encourage the red and gold in their final home game. Just five minutes later, Apocotos converted a penalty kick, awarded for illegal contact in the box, which tied things at 1-1 with 30 minutes to play. It, too, was a goal that almost wasn’t allowed. The referee blew the whistle to start play and Apocotos buried one in the left corner. But the Truckee keeper complained that he wasn’t ready, a plea which the ref heard and the kick was subsequently replayed. With Maltase primed to boil over, Apocotos calmly drilled the other corner to even the score.

“I was ready to storm the field. It wouldn’t have been pretty,” chided Maltase after the contest.

The struggle ensued throughout the remainder, with the respective defenses continually thwarting offensive attacks and each keeper making acrobatic saves.

“When Whittell and Truckee play, it’s always a tough game, no matter where we’re at (in the standings). (The Warriors) are always well- coached,” said Truckee coach Larry Leatherman. “We both started playing kick ball (in the second half), which both coaches don’t like. We converted a garbage goal and they got a penalty kick. Then that last goal came off a good pass and it was nice to get. Playing against a good keeper always brings out the best in our shooting.”

Truckee’s pressure and numerous chances finally paid ultimate dividend. Kyle Barth got behind the Warriors defense and buried a textbook rocket past an outstretched Rizzo with just five minutes remaining to make the difference.

“Like any sport, you can’t keep pressuring a defense without it eventually breaking down. But I think each team had its chances and we played them evenly. It easily could’ve gone the other way. They finished and we didn’t, it’s as simple as that,” Maltase said. “If you’re going to lose one to break a streak, it might as well be to a good team and not squandered (on a lesser one). Now we need to beat Incline and start another streak. I really think (we can play well enough) to meet Truckee again in the state finals.”

The win moved Truckee (11-2-1, 6-1 league) into second place behind Spring Creek in Northern Nevada 3A play, while the Warriors must win at Incline on Nov. 8 to earn a top-four postseason spot. North Tahoe is the other squad bound for the playoffs, a single-elimination series on Nov. 14 and 15.

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