By Graham Henderson
SAN RAFAEL — Stuart Hall gambled, starting the game aggressively, to try and catch Marin Academy off guard on their home turf and jump out to an early lead in the Bay Counties League West championship game.
But gambling against a team that has now won seven of the last 10 league titles is risky, and Marin Academy (15-2-1) was able to turn the tables, as the Wildcats scored three goals in the first 25 minutes to beat the Knights 3-0.
“They were ready for us,” said Stuart Hall (9-6-3) head coach Antonio Villegas. “We tried to come out aggressive and it backfired on us a little bit.”
Marin Academy senior Mason McDowell got the Wildcats offense going in the seventh minute when he sent a corner kick in to junior Eric Johanson. Knights’ goalkeeper Nick Berardi managed to get a hand on the corner kick, but the deflected ball wound up at Johanson’s feet, leaving him with a wide open net.
It was a play that McDowell and Johanson have had time to practice—in addition to being teammates at Marin Academy, the two have played on the same club team for the last seven years.
“We’ve been doing that same thing for basically our whole lives,” McDowell said.
McDowell was part of the senior-heavy Wildcats attack that consistently outran the Stuart Hall defenders.
Despite giving up the three early goals, the win would have been much bigger had it not been for the play of Berardi, who was kept busy for much of the game.
“It’d be fair to say that without him, it could have been pretty big numbers today,” said Marin Academy head coach Josh Kalkstein. “He was certainly in form.”
Berardi was quick to credit his defense, but was also quick to compliment the Wildcats offense.
“You’ve got to be prepared at all times, especially playing this team,” Berardi said. “They can shoot from any place around the arc, you’ve just got to be on your toes the whole time.”
Even trailing by three, the Stuart Hall offense kept the Wildcats on their toes the entire game.
“Under normal circumstances, you’d think that at three goals, the other team would kind of give up and roll over a little bit,” Kalkstein said. “That certainly wasn’t the case, they fought and battled the whole way through.”
While Stuart Hall was out-shot 14-7, the Knights did create opportunities of their own, especially in the second half.
“My guys stepped up their aggressiveness a little bit. Everything worked out for us in the second half,” Villegas said. “Unfortunately, Marin is a great team, they’ve got great players and great coaching. It was hard to come back from 3-0.”
With the BCL West win, Marin Academy automatically qualifies for the North Coast Section playoffs. The seedings for the playoffs will be announced on Sunday, but Kalkstein was hopeful that the Wildcats would garner a high seed.
“We’ve got a good case for number one, but we’ll see,” he said.
Even with the loss, Stuart Hall should still qualify for the NCS playoffs with and at-large bid.
MA: 7th minute—Eric Johanson
MA: 12th minute—Alex Brune
MA: 24th minute—Mason McDowell