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BERNALILLO — Most years, a two-seed at the state playoffs won’t have a tremendous amount of trouble with an 11-seed.
But if Thursday’s boys soccer contest was any indication, this isn’t going to be most years.
The Belen Eagles gave the Los Alamos Hilltoppers everything they could handle Thursday in the opening game of the Class AAAA World Cup round. The Eagles broke a scoreless tie with a 48th minute goal and got their defense settled in to protect it.
Only a textbook corner kick by Jason Reagor straight to the head of Michael Leslie could finally crack Belen’s better-than-advertised back line and force overtime.
Another straight-off-the-whiteboard corner kick, this one from Reagor to Graham Delano gave Los Alamos a 2-1 nail-biting win in the opening contest Thursday.
Reagor, who collected his team-leading 16th and 17th assists on the season, said his squad had better not go into Saturday’s game against Grants the way it did against Belen and expect to win.
“It took awhile to click,” the senior captain said. “We had trouble picking it up....We realized were could lose to this team. We didn’t come out to play and they did.”
With a big crisis averted, Los Alamos can now focus its attention on Grants, a team that actually beat Belen out of the District 6AAAA runner-up spot during the regular season.
Belen, spearheaded by Cameron D’Arcangeli, came out blazing during the opening minutes of both halves, something Los Alamos was caught completely unprepared for.
“Our scouting report on them was slightly negative,” Reagor said. “We weren’t expecting much and we weren’t ready to play.”
D’Arcangeli, who moved well in space with and without the ball, gave the Hilltopper defense plenty to worry about. He would score Belen’s only goal in the 48th minute, corralling a long pass about 35 yards away from Los Alamos’ goal and made a slicing inside-out run through a pair of Hilltopper defenders and put a bullet inside the left post past goalkeeper Oliver Funsten.
In the 2008 regular season D’Arcanegli was among AAAA’s top scorers, netting 21 goals.
The goal seemed to snap Los Alamos awake, but things didn’t really get rolling until the latter part of the second half.
“It was frustrating,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “Everyone knew what they needed to do. We needed to start focusing on the little things and about the last 15 minutes of regulation they started working on it.”
To tie the score, Leslie, who was among the tallest players on the field Thursday, outleaped a crush of humanity in front of the Belen goal to net the first Hilltopper score.
From that point on, it was a whole new ballgame.
Up to that point, Los Alamos had been outshot 14-12, but for the balance of regulation and the overtime period, Los Alamos took 10 shots to Belen's two.
"That's what we wanted," Gartz said. "We talked after regulation that we didn't want this going to (penalty kicks)."
The Hilltoppers dominated the overtime period and just missed out on two goals, one in the 83rd minute and one in the 88th minute.
Davis Anson slipped around Belen goalkeeper Kevin Carrillo who charged him from the goal in the 83rd minute and put a shot toward the right post. In the 88th minute, Daniel Rodriguez had a similar opportunity with Carrillo out of position.
Both shots were stopped, however, by the quick reaction of Belen fullback Dante Berry, who stepped in front of the shots at the last possible second to keep them out of goal.
Rodriguez's shot, however, deflected off Berry and over the end line, setting up what would be the game-winning corner kick.
Delano, a sophomore fullback playing his first year of varsity soccer, was in the pile around Belen's goal with everyone on the field except Hilltopper goalkeeper Oliver Funsten. The ball fell at Delano's feet and he snuck in a short shot through one of the few cracks of daylight around the goal for the icer.
It was a big game for Delano, not only in picking up the goal in sudden death, but in helping the defense regroup after D'Arcangeli's goal.
"After the first goal he stayed back and had a couple of steps on him at all times," Gartz said. "This was a great learning experience for him."
Los Alamos will wait today for the outcome of the Grants-Belen contest — the result wasn't available at press time. Should Grants win, Los Alamos will need a win to advance to the semifinals, but should Belen win, Los Alamos would need only a tie to move to the semifinals next week.