´Toppers bounce back vs. Scorps

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Boys soccer: Late goal sends Cernicek title game into OT

By Mike Cote

The last time the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team went on to win the Louie Cernicek Invitational, it would go on to win the state championship.

In 2012, the Hilltoppers are hoping this weekend’s tournament is a harbinger of things to come.

Los Alamos picked up two impressive victories in the opening rounds of the tournament, but had to slug it out against the defending Class 4A champion Farmington Scorpions.

After 78 minutes of scoreless ball and both teams struggling to produce any offense, Farmington’s Jeremy Klepac, quite possibly the most dangerous player in 4A, outhustled the Hilltopper defense to a long boot ball. Klepac emerged with the ball from a converging triangle of Los Alamos defenders to clang a shot off the crossbar and in.

But the drama wasn’t over, not by a long shot.

Deep in extra time, Cooper Christensen was fouled just outside of the Farmington penalty box. Midfielder Rohun Iyer was locked on to fullback Ben Stewart as he set up a flip-over kick that went right to Stewart’s head and into the goal.

Stewart, who was named the Defensive Player of the Tournament, said he felt responsible for Klepac’s late goal and new it was up to him to make something happen.

“He’s a phenomenal, unstoppable player,” Stewart said of Klepac. “It was our last stand. We needed a goal at all costs. Me and Rohun locked eyes, so I kind of new it was to me.”

In the 86th minute, Dallin Parker broke down the field and Offensive Player of the Tournament, Ryan Maestas, sent a short pop fly pass to him. Parker blew straight into the box through Farmington goalkeeper Isaac Kynast for the game-winner.

In the tournament, the Hilltoppers downed the two top teams from 2011, crushing the Belen Eagles 6-1 and holding on for the nail-biting 2-1 win over the Scorpions.

For most of the tournament, the Hilltoppers’ execution could scarcely have been better, something that was lacking in their season opener Tuesday in a opening-day loss to the Bosque School Bobcats.
Iyer said he knew the team would set their ship right.

“For a long time we’ve been practicing together,” he said. “We know what our coach wants to play. Game experience is the best lesson, pretty much.”

Parker’s game winner gave the Hilltoppers (3-1) just their second Cernicek tournament victory since 2004. The Scorpions won the tournament in 2011.

The two teams looked gassed headed into the final stretch Saturday night — the only two shots taken after the 42nd minute of the game were Klepac’s and Stewart’s goals — but head coach Evan Gartz said his team dug deep to bounce back after what appeared to be the backbreaker.

“I was really proud of this team,” Gartz said. “This week we threw a lot at them….We were switching formations. We have three formations we can deploy.”

Los Alamos may need all three formations next weekend when it hosts one of Class 4A’s biggest dogs, St. Pius X.

“We have great spots of passing,” Gartz said. “We need to make those turn into more minutes of great passing. If we improve that, we’ll be special.”

Los Alamos got itself shored up following a disappointing showing last week against Bosque School.
Los Alamos was unhappy with its intensity against Bosque, a quality small-school program, and ultimately went on to lose that contest.

Heading into the tournament, the Hilltoppers’ goal was, if nothing else, to make sure they didn’t come out with the same laissez-faire attitude in their home tournament, a source of pride for the Hilltopper program.

“I think that loss versus Bosque woke us up,” said Hilltopper Henry Steinkamp following the team’s semifinal victory over Class 5A Clovis. “We see what we needed to do and we won. Versus Bosque we didn’t show up until they scored on us.”

Steinkamp, who finished with a goal and an assist against Belen — he’s the team assist leader — got the semifinal game started with a bang. Just five minutes in Steinkamp broke in from the corner on a dead run to beat the Clovis defense and put the Hilltoppers up 1-0.

The Clovis goalkeeper would get his mitts on a point-blank shot by Steinkamp in the 20th minute, but Hilltoppers Ryan Maestas and Collin Stone were right there by the goal mouth to knock the rebound in, with Maestas getting the tally.
Stone had a big showing against the Wildcats, also netting a goal and an assist. Michael Maestas had the other goal for the Hilltoppers while Cameron Wilson, Rohun Iyer and Zayne Walterscheid earned assists.

Los Alamos never took its foot off the pedal in the semifinal, although both teams got winded and substituted liberally throughout the latter part of the contest.

The lone Clovis goal came in the 77th minute. It was one of only two shots by the Wildcats in the second half.

Los Alamos set the tone for the Cernicek Invitational early in Friday morning’s big win over Belen.

Belen, which finished in second place in Class 4A for both 2010 and 2011, had been an offensive juggernaut over the course of those two seasons, but its defense remained its Achilles heel in both years — among the very few teams the Eagles offense didn’t pound into submission during those years were Los Alamos and Farmington in the 4A championship game.

This season, while defense has, at best, not improved, the offense isn’t there for the Eagles to counteract their struggling back third.

Los Alamos scored in quick succession three times in the opening half, in the 15th, 20th and 24th minutes, with Steinkamp just missing out on an early goal in the 8th minute on a circus stop by Belen goalkeeper Alejandro Chavez.

With the outcome still slightly in doubt at that point — Belen still has some dangerous weapons up top this season — Los Alamos quickly slammed the door shut on the Eagles. Cooper Christensen, Dallin Parker and Ryan Maestas scored in the first eight minutes of the second half to dash any hope the Eagles might have had to mount a comeback.
Stone, who had a breakout tournament this weekend, sent a beautiful short pass to Parker on the far side, who 2-touched it into the Belen goal.

In the first half, Stone, Alexi Ortega and Nick Thoma picked up goals. Thoma’s came on a dead-eye placed corner kick from Michael Maestas, while Ryan Maestas’ goal came on the second of three assists from Steinkamp.

After managing just one goal in 88 minutes against Bosque, Los Alamos tallied 10 goals Friday and Saturday morning in a span of about 41 minutes.