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Looking at the final score, it would be tough to believe Friday’s boys soccer game was anybody’s contest until late in the second half.
But the Los Alamos Hilltoppers broke open the game with two goals, one coming at the 67-minute mark and one at the 70-minute mark.
Those goals made the sailing a lot smoother for the Hilltoppers as they topped the Goddard Rockets 3-0 in the opening round game of the Class AAAA state tournament Friday afternoon at Sullivan Field.
Nic Castaño provided the corner kick that Chase Havemann would score off of to give the Hilltoppers a 2-0 edge over the Rockets, then scored another for good measure three minutes later, curving a 20-yard direct kick just inside the near post to all but slam the door.
Friday’s victory clinches a trip to the Class AAAA quarterfinals for fifth-seeded Los Alamos, where it will face the winner of Goddard’s district, the Roswell Coyotes.
The win was the second of the season for the Hilltoppers (15-6) over the Rockets (11-10). But unlike their regular season contest, in which the Hilltoppers were dominant from start to finish, the 12th-seeded Rockets simply wouldn’t go away Friday until Havemann’s goal which seemed to take the life right out of them.
After the game, Havemann said he had some help with his score.
“That goal was thanks to Paul Hemez,” Havemann said. “The cross came up...and Paul did a great job of pressuring the goalie. I was there to get the rebound.”
Other than some final-minute desperation shots, all of which were well off-target, Goddard wouldn’t make much noise for the balance of the contest.
The Hilltoppers were breathing a collective sigh of relief following the game.
“It was pretty tough,” Havemann said. “They did a great job of pressuring us, but we were able to counter that with our quick game. Our possession was spot-on (Friday). Once we started getting our passing going, it started opening things up.”
The opening goal of the contest was not only one of the prettiest goals Los Alamos had scored all season, but came at exactly the right time. Zeke Zumbro’s goal at the 39th minute was sorely needed following some very near misses by Goddard on the other end.
Hilltopper forward Davis Anson chased down a long pass in Goddard’s right corner, then split a pair of defenders coming to cut him off. Anson sent a bullet crossing pass to Goddard’s far post, where Zumbro, coming from seemingly out of nowhere, put a head on the ball, lining right past Goddard goalkeeper Jason Butts.
Zumbro was all smiles after the game, despite having to lug his equipment, a bag of ice and a medical kit with him to the locker room.
“I was behind the play the entire time,” he said. “I was just like ‘I’ve got to catch up and put this in.’ Otherwise, it would’ve just been another wasted chance.”
That goal, which gave Los Alamos the initial lead, was the first in the varsity career of Zumbro, a sophomore.
His timing couldn’t have been better.
The Rockets, who initially looked like they’d be content just to hunker down and play defense, broke out of that mentality quickly and sent midfielder James Masterson and forwards Shawn Luck and Skylar George on all-out attacks anytime the Rockets had possession anywhere near midfield.
That led to an apparent goal in the 18th minute when Luck picked up a rebound off Masterson’s initial shot that went off the left post of the Hilltoppers’ goal.
Luck thumped the rebound shot in, but, after an officials’ conference, was ruled to be offside.
“It was interesting, the way the game unfolded like it did,” Zumbro said. “That first Goddard attempt that got waved off really put the fire under us.”
Following the first 14 minutes, Goddard actually outshot Los Alamos 5-3 in the half.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said after the game he was shaking his head over his team’s performance in the first half.
“I knew how much we needed to toughen our defense,” Gartz said. “We were letting things happen in that first half that we’d never let happen before. Balls were bouncing around in the box. We talked about that quite a bit at halftime.”
The Hilltopper defense listened. Led by a spirited effort from Chris Montoya, who rubbed out four potential attack opportunities in the second half, Los Alamos’ back line quieted George and Luck down considerably.
Following Havemann’s goal in the 67th minute, Castaño sent a slice around Goddard’s 3-man wall and right between the near post and Butts to give the Hilltoppers a 3-0 edge.
Butts, for his part, had an outstanding game even though he was scored upon three times. He finished with five saves, four in the second half, including a penalty kick attempt by Anson in the 44th minute. Two of his saves early in the second half were about all that kept the Rockets in the contest during that span.
Los Alamos took 13 shot attempts to Goddard’s 12. Los Alamos goalkeeper Oliver Funsten needed to stop just one Goddard shot-on-goal.
The Hilltoppers and Coyotes (17-3) will face off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. That quarterfinal contest will be held at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex near Volcano Vista High School on the extreme west side of Albuquerque.
“I loved the intensity in the second half,” Gartz said. “We need to do a better job of that in the first half.”