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With things getting nearly out of control in the second half, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team managed to keep its composure and cruise to a solid win.
The visiting Piedra Vista Panthers were slapped with three hard red cards in an eight-minute span Thursday, two for blatantly aggressive play and the other for misconduct, as the team imploded.
There was more than a little bit of hard feelings, but the Hilltoppers managed to keep the cooler heads despite the overly-aggressive – and in a couple of cases, downright dirty play – by the Panthers.
In Thursday’s game at Sullivan Field, Los Alamos controlled the contest virtually from the outset, leaving little more than table scraps for the Panthers, to pick up a 3-0 win in an important interdistrict Class AAAA contest.
Paul Hemez, David Wyman and Andy Thoma all earned goals Thursday, while Piedra Vista managed just two relatively harmless shots-on-goal in the second half.
Los Alamos, which hopes it turned a big corner after taking a top Class 5A school, Eldorado, to overtime a week earlier, has put together a pair of convincing wins back-to-back – it vanquished Santa Fe 6-0 Saturday – heading into the first of two crucial District 2AAAA games with Capital this Saturday.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time, but this was a big win for us,” Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said. “We wanted to be aggressive (Thursday). This was a perfect precursor to Capital.”
Capital’s Jaguars turned their program around in a relatively short period of time, going from doormat to legitimate threat in 2AAAA. Capital, which nearly knocked Los Alamos out of the playoffs in 2007, is currently ranked sixth, according to the NMSoccer.com weekly poll, just two spots behind the Hilltoppers.
Wyman, who scored the second goal Thursday early in the second half, said he felt the team would be fine going in after the Piedra Vista game to face Capital with only one day’s rest.
“We’re ready for it,” he said. “We’ve been conditioning a lot because we knew we’d have to be ready for that.”
Piedra Vista (4-6-1), which played some dandy contests with Los Alamos (8-6) last season, including a thrilling Class AAAA playoff semifinal, won by the Hilltoppers, simply couldn’t get much going Thursday. Los Alamos dominated in the midfield, led by Wyman and Thoma, controlling the vast majority of the 50-50 balls in the contest.
The Panthers’ main scoring threat, forward Shane Woodson, had only two runs of any consequence after his team fell behind, both of which were stopped by the Hilltopper back line, now at full strength with both Graham Delano and Matt Leslie both back in the lineup following injuries.
On the other end, Thoma, one of the top point-scorers in AAAA this season, picked up not only a goal in the 53rd minute – which seemed to be the onus of Piedra Vista’s composure collapse – but was credited with assists on the other two goals.
Thoma, a collegiate soccer prospect, is currently ranked fourth in AAAA with 35 points (13 goals, 9 assists). Hemez is currently ranked eighth in total points (29).
But in quick succession, shortly after Thoma’s goal, Piedra Vista was nailed with a pair of red cards, then earned a third late in the contest.
While more than one of the Hilltoppers was getting hot under the collar due to the over-aggressive play – Gartz said a couple of Panthers resorted to “headhunting” late in the contest – there was virtually no retaliatory action on Los Alamos’ part.
“It’s really tough when they start getting aggressive, it’s hard to keep your cool and play the game,” Wyman said. “They started coming hard and started hurting us. It’s tough not to get aggressive. You just have to play fast and not let them get to us.”
In goal, Dallin Parker got the starting nod and played most of the contest, giving way to McKay Parkinson with about 15 minutes remaining. While neither goalkeeper was under a lot of pressure Thursday, Gartz liked the way they performed.
Starting goalkeeper Lorenzo Venneri, who suffered a broken nose in Los Alamos’ disappointing home loss to Albuquerque Academy Sept. 17, has been cleared to play, but Gartz said that while he may practice today, he probably won’t make his return into action until sometime next week.