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The big, burning issue for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team heading into the tail end of the 2010 regular season is whether it can run with the big dogs come playoff time.
Los Alamos has shown the potential to do so, but the big signature win it was hoping for has so far proven to be elusive.
In its final nondistrict contest of the season, the Hilltoppers gave the St. Pius X Sartans, undoubtedly the top team of the last decade in Class AAAA, a run for their money. Los Alamos had some chances to pick up a big upset, but couldn’t capitalize on those chances as the Sartans escaped Sullivan Field with a 2-1 victory.
Coming back Saturday, the Hilltoppers made fairly light work of the Bernalillo Spartans, a District 2AAAA rival, knocking them off 6-0.
Los Alamos (10-7 overall, 4-0 in 2AAAA) has just two regular season contests remaining. It will face Santa Fe Tuesday, followed by its season finale at Capital the following Tuesday.
The Capital Jaguars contest could well determine the District 2AAAA champion this season, although Los Alamos won the teams’ first meeting 2-1 Oct. 2.
Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said he knew what to expect from the Sartans Friday. The Sartans keep the game up-tempo and can force the issue with good ball pressure.
“We played them well,” Gartz said. “Those big games in the playoffs with the top teams, they’re going to be dogfights. We need to capitalize on our chances a little better. They (the Sartans) work so hard. The only way we were going to lose to them was to get outworked. They come after the ball so hard and they make you make quick decisions.”
A pair of mistakes on the defensive third led to the two St. Pius goals Friday night.
Gartz said both the mistakes were correctable and shouldn’t happen again if the two teams end up squaring off in the playoffs.
Against Bernalillo, Los Alamos scored three times in the first six minutes, immediately taking the Spartans completely out of their game from the get-go.
Los Alamos scored from all angles in the first half, but couldn’t keep up its offensive pressure in the second half, netting zero goals following the break.
David Wyman, who is having a solid district season for the Hilltoppers, scored twice in the contest, connecting on the opening goal and coming back in the sixth minute for another.
Meanwhile, Graham Delano, who moved up to the front line in the first half from his usual fullback position, finished with a goal and an assist Saturday, including a 15-yarder right before halftime.
Los Alamos midfielder Andy Thoma also had a goal and an assist in the first half.
Although Los Alamos can’t clinch the district title until its final game of the season, barring an upset by Santa Fe or a Jaguars’ upset in their final two district games, it has probably secured an at-large berth. The playoff outlook is still rather cloudy, however, as at least six teams can make a solid case for the top four slots and the Hilltoppers have dropped games to St. Pius, Academy and Farmington.
Gartz said losing to the Sartans wasn’t going to help his team’s argument any to get into the top four — the Sartans are all but guaranteed to have the No. 1 position — but one of those slots is definitely within reach, especially with a district championship to solidify the Hilltoppers’ argument.