Boys soccer: Late Topper comeback falls just short

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — Generally speaking, 4-0 leads in soccer are pretty safe.

But there was nothing safe about St. Michael’s 4-0 halftime lead over the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team during Friday’s contest at Brother Abdon Field.

A rather improbable comeback by the Hilltoppers, however would fall just short. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though.

Los Alamos came within inches of clawing its way back from a four-goal deficit with under 15 minutes to play, but St. Michael’s Horsemen held on for a 5-4 nondistrict win Tuesday.

In a wild finish to a wild second half, the Hilltoppers put eight shots on goal in the final three minutes of regulation and extra time, with Jon Thoma scoring a goal very late in the contest to put his team within one score.

Evan Gartz, Los Alamos’ head coach, said he made sure to let his team know exactly what was on his mind at the halftime break. From then on, his team stayed on track.

“It showed a lot of good potential with our team,” Gartz said. “With our backs against the wall we finally got it going. It was just too little, too late.”

If Gartz’s halftime speech left any of the team members un-fired up, the field official’s call in the 53rd minute certainly got them hot under the collar.

Hilltopper fullback Will Schoonover, who received a first half yellow card for saying something to the field official, earned another yellow for interfering with a free kick. St. Michael’s attempted a quick-kick not three seconds after a handball whistle with Schoonover apparently not having enough time to reposition himself before the kick was taken.

Schoonover, one of the team’s captains, was ejected with the second yellow card — because of which, he will also have to miss Thursday’s contest against Mayfield — which led to another direct kick attempt just outside Los Alamos’ 18-yard box.

The Horsemen took advantage. Midfielder Jeff Najjar buried the free kick into the far corner to give his squad a 5-1 advantage.

It was Najjar’s second score of the game. He put the Horsemen up 1-0 with a goal into the upper-right of Los Alamos’ goal, which got the Horsemen on the board in the 14th minute.

Los Alamos’ first goal came at the 45-minute mark, with sophomore Matthew Leslie’s groundball snuck past St. Michael’s goalkeeper Arthur Dejamette from short range.

In Tuesday’s contest, the Hilltoppers (2-2) had three apparent goals waved off, including a first half goal by Matthew Leslie. That goal was waved off when a line official ruled the ball had rolled over the end line. Play continued for approximately 20 seconds after the ball got to the end line before Leslie’s goal was discounted.

“In the first half, some calls didn’t go our way, but we had our chances,” Gartz said.

Two other second half goals by the Hilltoppers were waved off for offside violations.

In the first half, St. Michael’s (3-0-1) outshot Los Alamos 13-7, but Los Alamos took 15 shots in the second half to St. Michael’s five.

With the score 5-1, Andy Thoma banged a shot off Dejamette from close range, then grabbed his own rebound to score, cutting the Horsemen lead to three at the 66th minute mark. Midfielder Jason Reagor was credited with an assist on the play.

About five minutes later, Reagor streaked straight through the Horsemen back line — which played a stellar contest up until that point — splitting a pair of defenders to score and putting the Hilltoppers within two.

Jon Thoma’s blast for goal from 12 yards out, coming in extra time, was assisted by Reagor as well.

Thoma crushed three other shots from close range, one was just wide and two others were stopped by Dejamette.

For the season, Reagor has tallied four goals and handed out three assists.

In the first half, Grant Duke also scored twice for the Horsemen, converting a penalty kick after Schoonover fouled Gabe Patterson in the box and making a scoring run down the right flank and receiving a well-placed diagonal pass from teammate Eric Fishback with under a minute to go before the break.

Jeff Pendleton had the other Horsemen goal, that coming in the 36th minute, kneeing in Fishback’s corner kick.

Los Alamos now heads to the Albuquerque Academy Invitational, taking on Mayfield’s Trojans, currently ranked second in Class AAAAA according to NMSoccer.com. Mayfield (3-0) finished fourth in last week’s big-school coaches’ poll on that website.

Following Thursday’s contest, Los Alamos will face either Farmington or Sandia Prep, two solid clubs in their own rights.

“This was a good tune-up,” Gartz said of the St. Mike’s game. “This was the perfect precursor for that tournament. We’ll have the boys fired up. We need to play 80 minutes of good soccer instead of 40.”