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The Los Alamos High School box office sells fans the whole seat to its boys soccer games, but more often this season than not, fans have only needed the edge.
Saturday in one of its most important contests of the season, Los Alamos again appeared to be on its way to a convincing win only to see the tides turn quickly. Up 2-0 and just missing out on four other shots, Los Alamos saw its lead cut in half in a matter of seconds as Capital put a through ball into the goal at the 50-minute mark.
Capital’s Jaguars made some other good runs during a 10-minute stretch, attempting to find the equalizer, but their pushes fell short and the Hilltoppers held on for a 2-1 victory at Sullivan Field.
The hallmark of Los Alamos’ 2010 season so far is its struggle to hold on to seemingly comfortable leads. In games this season against quality opponents like Rio Rancho, St. Michael’s and, most notably Albuquerque Academy, Los Alamos appeared well on its way to big victories only to see leads disappear.
“It’s nice to get this win, but I wish we could’ve won in a little more convincing fashion,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “We had an opportunity to get a 6-0 lead in the first half…this gives them hope for the next game.”
This season, the Hilltoppers and the Jaguars will likely duke it out for the District 2AAAA crown, as neither Santa Fe nor Bernalillo, the teams’ other district foes, seem to pose much of a threat.
The two teams will meet on Capital, a turf field where quick, ball-control play could well be the deciding factor, in Los Alamos’ final regular season game Oct. 19.
For much of Saturday’s contest, the Hilltoppers were able to maintain control of the ball, particularly in the midfield where the Jaguars struggled.
Los Alamos fullback Alex Kendrick said he saw first-hand how important ball control was against the Jaguars.
“After that first goal, we lost possession,” Kendrick said. “At the end we started to get it back a little bit and we kept our lead.”
Behind Kendrick, who turned in a solid effort Saturday, goalkeeper Lorenzo Venneri made his return to the lineup. Venneri suffered a broken nose against Academy Sept. 17 and has to wear a special facemask while he’s on the field.
To get their lead, the Hilltoppers scored a pair of goals inside the first 10 minutes. David Wyman, who had a key goal in the Hilltoppers’ win two days before against Piedra Vista, scored on an assist from Paul Hemez to give his team the early advantage. A little more than five minutes later, Andy Thoma put a corner kick in the air where fullback Graham Delano, the tallest player on the field, headed it into goal.
Los Alamos had numerous other chances in the first half, with Thoma, who has been the Hilltoppers’ biggest offensive force throughout the season, crushing a 15-yarder off the crossbar at the 19-minute mark and Hemez banging a shot off the left post with just 20 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Despite the close call Saturday, Los Alamos is now 3-0 in 2AAAA play (9-6 overall) and has first place all to itself in the district standings.
“It’s a pretty big win,” Kendrick said. “It definitely sets the stage for the rest of the district games. It’s also good to get a win before (St.) Pius on Friday.”
Even with Saturday’s win, Los Alamos will still likely have to beat Capital in their Santa Fe rematch to win the district title outright. However, barring a pretty major collapse down the final stretch, the win Saturday may be enough to ensure Los Alamos an at-large playoff berth regardless of the ultimate 2AAAA outcome.
Prior to that, however, it will face the St. Pius X Sartans Friday in a game that could factor in big in the postseason seedings.