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BERNALILLO — What a difference a day off makes.
Only 48 hours after a lackluster performance against the Belen Eagles to open World Cup pool play, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team systematically dismantled the Grants Pirates Saturday at the state Class AAAA tournament.
Los Alamos scored just three minutes into Saturday’s second pool play game and never looked back as it smashed Grants 6-1 to advance to this week’s AAAA playoff semifinals.
Grants, making its first appearance at state in school history, simply had no match for Los Alamos’ speed upfront Saturday. The combination of forwards Davis Anson and Daniel Rodriguez tortured the Pirate back line all game long, combining for two goals and three assists between them.
“(Saturday) we were scoring on each other’s runs,” Rodriguez said. “We were playing a lot of give-and-gos. We were playing with each other really well.”
Anson finished with a goal and two assists, while Rodriguez fed Anson on his goal in the 16th minute. Anson returned the favor in the 46th minute.
It was a monster win for the second-seeded Hilltoppers (16-5), especially after Thursday’s tense contest against the 11th-seeded Eagles, who took the Hilltoppers deep into the first overtime before Graham Delano’s sudden death goal.
It was a game that Belen was in control of for the first 63 minutes before Los Alamos got on track.
But there was no such lapse Saturday.
“We started to connect on our passes, and we finished them all,” Anson said following Saturday’s game. “We worked much better as a team.”
It was a tough end to 2008 for the Pirates (11-9) in an otherwise noteworthy season for their boys soccer program. The Pirates were nipped by the Eagles 1-0 Friday, the team they had edged out for the runner-up spot in a highly-competitive District 6AAAA, then were routed in what for them was an elimination contest.
With its win in Pool B, Los Alamos now advances to face Albuquerque Academy in the semifinal round. Academy, the winner of Pool C, knocked off Piedra Vista 3-0 Thursday and Goddard 4-0 Saturday to advance.
Saturday’s win for Los Alamos also marked the return of Will Schoonover to the Hilltopper lineup. Schoonover had been on suspension but successfully appealed to Los Alamos Public Schools’ administration and was restated following Thursday’s game.
Schoonover wasted little time making an impact. After just missing on two shots in the first half, Schoonover punched in a pair of lightning-quick 1-on-1 chances in the second half.
He capped off the win by beating Grants goalkeeper Andrew Eaton, who came out of goal, and slowly rolling a shot right by him and inside the left post.
Andy Thoma headed in a good-looking cross by Anson from the deep right corner to get the Hilltoppers on the board just three minutes in to get things rolling.
It was obvious from the opening kickoff that Los Alamos had found the form that had made it the No. 2 seed in the first place.
“Thursday woke us up,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “We had to be first to every ball, which we weren’t versus Belen. We got good passes. Everything was just spot-on. That showed the quality our team can be.”
Los Alamos scored three goals in its first three shots.
Following Thoma’s initial header, Rodriguez dribbled down the left sideline, made a sweeping fake with his left foot that dropped the Grants defender to the ground, then sent a short, easy pass to Anson breaking straight down the middle of the field. Anson tapped it in past a diving Eaton to make the score 2-0.
For the game, Los Alamos outshot Grants 20-5.
The lone goal of the contest for Grants came in the 69th minute when Cesar Soria, one of the leading scorers for the Pirates, got the ball into a breaking Taylor Allen who shot across the body of backup goalkeeper Ryan Dunham.
The Pirates managed just one shot in the first half, which was well off-target.
Los Alamos’ defense was anchored in both games by Delano, a sophomore sweeper who came up big in the two pool play wins.
The Hilltopper defense again did a fine job against a prominent offensive presence, Grants’ Aaron Cruz. Cruz, the fifth-leading point collector in AAAA was a non-factor Saturday.
Jon Thoma scored in the 18th minute off an assist by Dion Obermeyer to make the score 3-0, where it stood at the break.
Gartz said he thinks his team will be able to keep its good thing going heading into the semifinals. The main goal in preparation, he said, was to make sure his wings establish position against Academy, which likes to work the ball wide-to-middle on attacks.
The semifinal contest is slated for Thursday at the soccer complex.
“This game gave us a lot of confidence,” Anson said. “We had a good game. We’ve got to keep it up in the semis and hopefully get to the finals.”