Sparks was scheduled to visit Incline on Tuesday, but after the season’s first snow draped the Highlanders’ home, the contest was moved to the Rail City. Although the change in location prevented the clubs from playing on a snow-covered pitch, the weather was still frigid and windy in the Truckee Meadows. That was evident in the pace of play in the first half.
As both sides tried to establish possession in the opposition's territory, neither managed good scoring opportunities. Still, SHS took a slim 1-0 edge into halftime. After the break, the Railroaders seemed to heat up as they controlled the ball throughout the second half and tallied three more scores en route to a 4-1 victory.
Sparks (22-1, 15-1) first got on the scoreboard in the 24th minute when Kevin Partida dribbled into the box before cutting toward the net where an Incline defender tackled him resulting in a penalty kick. Padilla then tucked the ball home in the bottom left corner of the net on the PK as a stutter step left the goalkeeper guessing.
With a 1-0 upper hand heading into the second half, the Railroaders blitzed the IHS net.
In the 45th minute, Hector Hernandez notched an unassisted goal as he cut through the Highlander defense before burying the ball into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Staying on the attack, Sparks was back on the board in the 58th minute as Oscar Gomez drew a penalty kick and drove the ensuing PK into the top right shelf of the goal, leaving SHS up 3-0.
The Railroaders tacked on an insurance goal in the 67 minute when Ruben Pacheco took a ball from Hernandez and beat the Highlanders' goalie for a 4-0 advantage.
Incline marked a late goal as a mishandled ball fell to the feet of Highlander Kyle Reeves, who put the goal away, resulting in the 4-1 final.
While acknowledging the cold weather’s impact upon the game, Sparks coach Frank Avilla also attributed his team’s slow start to a bit of selfishness.
“We have a habit of wanting to play individual soccer sometimes, and that’s not soccer,” Avilla said. “Soccer is a full team effort. They just need to get better at knowing when to do that and when not to do that. To their credit, we had a lot of wind today and it was very cold, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt today. There’s no secret though, when we pass as a team and use our athletic ability, I think we’re a very good team. They’re starting to learn that and do that more frequently.”
With one final game before regionals, remaining at Whittell on Friday, Avilla said the Railroaders are right where they need to be.
“I think our momentum is already there. I think these kids are already there,” Avilla said. “To be honest with you, I think when we go to Whittell we’re going to work on playing everybody. We have a lot of underclassmen that have supported us and worked hard in practice to push our top classmen, so we want to honor them. Sometimes, when I insert the younger kids in, the other guys realize they have to pass the ball because the seniors want to show their athletic ability, but like I said, they need to know when to do that. I think we’re getting better at knowing that.”
While the boys managed to seal a victory against Incline, on the girls side the Railroaders were not as fortunate.
After both teams battled their way to a 0-0 tie at the break, the Highlanders managed to sneak a goal into the Sparks net in the 56th minute. As the Railroaders’ keeper and a defender both tried to stop a shot, the pair got tangled up and the ball slipped by. From there, Incline would hold off SHS for the 1-0 win.
“We’ve actually never beat Incline, so this was pretty good for us to play them to 1-0,” Sparks coach Jerry Miller said. “We played them real even in the first half even though they out-shot us. We didn’t get very many shots in the second half either. They played well though with only a week left. I was pretty happy with the outcome.”
With the season finale scheduled for Friday, Miller said he is expecting the same type of strong performance from the Railroaders to end the year on a high note.
“They played strong. I was kind of worried they might get down as the season goes on without the wins coming, but they played hard and they keep playing hard,” he said. “We have one game left Friday at Whittell so I expect them to be energized and ready to go. They’re pretty hearty girls.”