Casa Grande girls edge Petaluma rivals in likely Vine Valley Athletic League title clincher

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The last time these crosstown girls soccer rivals met, Casa Grande outplayed Petaluma, Gauchos girls soccer coach Vinnie Cortezzo said. But the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Wednesday was a little different: Petaluma outplayed Casa overall, but the visiting Gauchos pulled out a 1-0 victory, likely clinching the Vine Valley Athletic League title.

“I’ll take a little luck in soccer,” he said afterward, as his girls celebrated and the Trojans walked away in tears, knowing they played well enough to win.

“I’m happy with the outcome. I’m happy with the effort,” he said. “I’m not thrilled with our soccer. We could have been better.”

Savanna Sunshine, a senior midfielder, made a penalty kick 12 minutes into the game for the night’s only goal.

Sophomore forward Mallory Jones dribbled into the left side of the 18-yard box with Petaluma’s Amanda Rocha on her hip. The pair tangled, both ending up face first on the turf, and the referee pointing to the penalty spot.

Cortezzo leaves it up to his team to decide who takes the shot. Sunshine, a team captain, stepped up.

“I want someone who wants to do it,” Cortezzo said. “I know she can put it into the corner.”

“Some of my teammates were unsure who should take it,” Sunshine said. “I felt confident I could take the shot.”

She coolly stepped to the ball and buried it in the lower right corner, past sophomore Petaluma keeper Silvana Sessi.

“I trusted my instincts,” she said. “I was nervous, but I knew I could do it.”

Both teams went into the game undefeated in the VVAL, Casa 8-0-1 and Petaluma 7-0-1, the only non-win for each their draw last month.

With the Trojans’ loss, Casa just has to win its final two games, against last-place Justin-Siena and fourth-place Sonoma Valley. At best, the Trojans could tie if they win their final three games — against the bottom three in the standings — and Casa loses one.

Cortezzo isn’t overlooking the Dragons, but both coaches acknowledged that Wednesday’s match probably meant the league championship.

For girls on both teams, the game is more than just a VVAL contest. Most of them have known each other for years and play on club teams together.

A Petaluma-Casa matchup could be for last place and each team would still rise to the occasion.

For the first 10 minutes of Wednesday’s game, both squads appeared to be feeling each other out or working out nerves, neither putting together any real drives.

Then, the penalty and the goal, giving Casa an all-important 1-0 advantage.

Petaluma fought back, dominating possession for the rest of the half, getting several shots off but nothing too troubling for Casa keeper Rebecca Lewis.

The Trojans had three successive corners, but Lewis parried one out of danger and Casa’s defense held firm on others.

“I knew they were going to respond,” Cortezzo said. “They had five corners in the last 20 minutes of the half. We were lucky to go into the half with the lead.”

Petaluma had more chances in the second 40 as well, but several shots went wide or straight to Lewis, a junior.

Petaluma coach Callum Brooker agreed with Cortezzo that the Trojans played well enough to win.

It was a “disappointing result for us, but I’m proud of my girls,” he said. “We controlled the majority of the game, created numerous opportunities and dictated the tempo. It’s one of those games that just doesn’t end in the result we hoped for.”

He said Casa absorbed the Trojans’ pressure well.

It “was a great game overall, though — very entertaining, action both ways, girls left their hearts on the field on both sides,” Brooker said.

With the win, Cortezzo said his team feels comfortably in the driver’s seat with two games left in the league season.

“We’ll just try to win them all and not have to worry about it,” he said.

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