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SANTA FE — On a cold, damp field on which it has struggled the past two seasons, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team cleared its final big hurdle to returning the top of District 2AAAA.
And it did so in dominant fashion.
The Hilltoppers trounced the Capital Jaguars 4-0 Tuesday night at Jaguar Field, putting them just one win away from recapturing the District 2AAAA championship they felt they squandered in 2007.
Los Alamos had lost on two straight trips to Jaguar Field, including a 2-1 shootout loss last season that would ultimately cost it the district championship.
The fast artificial surface on the field had generally been considered by Los Alamos as the big culprit in the two losses, with Los Alamos struggling to keep its passes under control, the most vital element of its patient attack strategy.
For Tuesday’s trip, the Hilltoppers prepared a little differently.
“Coach took us to the tennis courts and we played on a really small square,” Hilltopper captain Will Schoonover said. “We did a lot of 1- or 2-touches…that got us ready for this game.”
Throughout Tuesday’s game, Los Alamos looked like the team that played on artificial surface all season, while Capital was the team that straggled. Los Alamos beat Capital to almost every ball and limited its opponent to just one shot in the first half.
The Jaguars played most of the first half employing a tried-and-true strategy: nine men in the penalty area. While the Hilltoppers in the past had struggled to get any clean looks against the overstacked defense, that was hardly a problem Tuesday.
Led by its star midfielder Jason Reagor, Los Alamos moved the ball deep into Jaguar territory early in the first half. In the 10th minute Reagor blew through Capital’s overstacked defense and dropped a pass right in front of the goal mouth to Andy Thoma, who went just wide right with his shot.
Despite the miss, Los Alamos saw early that it could get through Capital’s defense and took full advantage throughout the balance of the contest.
“We possessed the ball so well,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “We got into the mindset that we had to put the ball at people’s feet and we did that very well.”
Los Alamos got off four shots in the first 14 minutes. With the fourth shot, it hit paydirt.
In the 14th minute, Reagor, moving without the ball, again got through the Jaguar back line and redirected a ball off his head just inside the left post to give the Hilltoppers a 1-0 edge.
Reagor, who is among the top five in scoring in Class AAAA this season with 44 points, would score again in the 47th minute to make the score 3-0 and to erase any lingering doubt as to whether Capital could make a comeback.
For Capital, overworked goalkeeper Erick Blanco was pretty solid for most of the contest, earning three saves.
The only ball that he could’ve stopped that got away from him was a costly one, though.
At the 29-minute mark, following a tripping call in Jaguar territory, Schoonover crushed the ensuing direct kick toward the left side of the Jaguar goal. The ball hit Blanco squarely in the hands, but it was too hot for him to handle and it squirted through into the net.
“That’s what I do, I guess,” said Schoonover, who has tallied several goals on the season in similar fashion. “I had to put it right on goal and give the ‘keeper some kind of challenge…take the best shot you can get from 20 or 30 yards out.”
The goal, from about 30 yards out, put Los Alamos up 2-0 and sent the Jaguars scrambling.
The Jaguars would get their best scoring chance of the night just a few minutes later with Douglas Membreno getting loose and firing wide right across the goal mouth.
Los Alamos goalkeeper Oliver Funsten, who was injured early this season, returned in goal during the second half, replacing Ryan Dunham. Funsten recorded the only Los Alamos save of the night, that coming in the 43rd minute on a long, weak bouncing shot.
Capital finished with just four shots to Los Alamos’ 15.
David Wyman earned the final goal of the night, scooping up a loose ball and finishing in front of the Capital goal in minute 70.
The win was the 10th in 11 contests for Los Alamos (12-4 overall, 5-0 in 2AAAA), which would very likely have clinched the district title had Saturday’s schedule game with the Española Valley Sundevils not been postponed due to weather.
Los Alamos now needs just one win in any of its final two scheduled district games, the next of which comes Thursday against Bernalillo. Los Alamos topped Bernalillo 10-0 Oct. 7 at home.
Capital (11-6 overall, 4-2 in 2AAAA) remains in second place in the district standings. It blanked defending champion Taos 1-0 in both their district meetings and needs just one more win or another Taos loss to secure the runner-up spot.