At the end of 80 minutes of soccer between Calaveras and Bret Harte, each team stood on their respective sideline giving hugs and taking pictures. Tuesday night was a night that players from both teams won’t soon forget.
On Calaveras’ sideline, players and coaches were celebrating a 2-0 home victory over the Bullfrogs. On the Bret Harte sideline, there was no celebrating, but there was positive reflection and gratitude. Bret Harte’s season is now complete and the same goes for Joel Barnett’s coaching career. Tuesday night was the final game for Barnett, as he plans on hanging up his whistle and will step away from the game he’s spent the majority of his life around.
“I actually tried to retire from coaching last year, but we have nine seniors this year and I didn’t even get home from our banquet last year before I started getting phone calls and texts asking to see the seniors out,” Barnett said. “So, I knew this was coming all season. I’m ready. It’s been 35 years total of coaching and 25 in high school, so it’s time to spend some time with my wife.”
Tuesday’s game was the final one of the season for the Bullfrogs. Bret Harte ends the Mother Lode League season 0-9-1. But even though his team wasn’t able to pick up a league victory, Barnett told his players how much he appreciated each and every one of them and how much this final season meant to him.
“I like the heart and spirit with this group of boys,” Barnett said. “We went through the entire season with a pretty big bench for Bret Harte, which is five kids on the bench at any given time. So, getting everybody playing time, without getting guys upset for not starting is always tricky, but this group just stayed together. And it’s tough when you have zero wins in a season. Usually there is fighting and finger pointing and we had none of that.”
Knowing this was Bret Harte's final game of the season, Calaveras head coach Rob Leetham knew the Bullfrogs would hold nothing back and he made sure to have his team prepared for a tough battle.
“It’s always a big rivalry game against Bret Harte,” Leetham said. “And not only that, but this is coach Barnett’s last game before he retires and we knew his players would be playing hard for him. So, it wasn’t a surprise that they made us work for it.”
Calaveras was once again led by its defense, who for the sixth game in a row, allowed one or zero goals. In eight league games, only once has a team scored twice on Calaveras.
“I love our defenders,” Leetham said. “They just play their guts out every game. We have the nickname, ‘Big Red Defense,’ and they’ve just been fantastic all season long.”
With 29:45 to play in the first half, Calaveras got its first goal of the night, which came off the foot of senior Andrew Celli.
“It’s always nice to get that first goal and it does give you a little bit of comfort, but in soccer, anything can happen,” Leetham said. “Bret Harte clanked a few off the side post a couple of times and the lead could have disappeared in a hurry.”
The Celli goal that was the only score Calaveras got in the opening 40 minutes. Bret Harte played tough defense and senior goalkeeper Cooper Morlan made a number of outstanding saves.
“We definitely had them on their toes,” Bret Harte senior Manny Nava said. “One thing that every team has told us is that we never give up fighting and we come out strong every game.”
With a 1-0 lead, the pressure was put on Calaveras’ defense. Not wanting a fourth MLL game to end in a tie, Calaveras leaned on its defenders to protect the slim lead.
“It was really important to keep ourselves together and composed,” Calaveras’ Phillip Bennett said. “There was so much pressure with them trying to keep pushing the ball at us to tie it up. We just needed to keep it together and keep the ball on their side and it worked.”
Celli added Calaveras’ second goal with 11:30 to play in the second half with a free kick. Celli’s shot went just inches over the leap of Morlan to give Calaveras a 2-0 lead. The score was Celli’s sixth goal in the past three games.
“Celli has been fantastic for us this year and all four years here at Calaveras,” Leetham said. “He’s a goal scoring machine. We are really thrilled about the way his passing has developed this season as well.”
The night ended with Calaveras leading 2-0. As Nava walked off the field, it finally set in that his Bret Harte soccer career was complete.
“It hit me hard once the second half started,” Nava said. “We didn’t let it affect us, we just played our hearts. We never gave up. I think we played great tonight. As a team, we are united. We didn’t really focus on the wins or the losses; we just had fun with it.”
Unlike Bret Harte, Calaveras (5-1-3 MLL) has one final league game to play, which will be at 5:45 p.m., Thursday against Argonaut at Frank Meyer Field in San Andreas. After that, Calaveras will wait to find out who it will take on in the playoffs as the No. 3 seed coming out of the Mother Lode League.
“We know that the league championship was decided with Summerville and Sonora tonight and we feel that we are right there with them,” Leetham said. “We just hit a rough spot in the middle of the season with three ties in a row, but we are so proud of the guys. We were told that our 12 wins is the most in Calaveras history. I’ll need to double check that, but that’s a pretty great accomplishment for the season.”