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ALBUQUERQUE — A noteworthy run in the Class AAAA state tournament fell a game short for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team.
After pulling off an upset against the Roswell Coyotes and squeaking past a dangerous Piedra Vista Panther squad, the Hilltoppers’ quest for their first state title since 1986 was stopped in the state title game courtesy of the Farmington Scorpions.
The Scorpions scored twice in the first half and tacked on a late goal in the second half to earn a decisive 3-0 victory over the Hilltoppers in Saturday’s tournament final at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.
With its victory, Farmington became the first team not named St. Pius X to win the AAAA boys state championship since 2001.
For the Hilltoppers, Saturday’s loss was a tough pill to swallow after their excellent showing in the postseason. But Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz offered no excuses following his team’s defeat.
“They brought it to us,” Gartz said of the Scorpions. “We had the upper hand for the first 15 minutes, but we didn’t put the ball in the net. That’s been a problem all season. After that, their offensive attack brought our defense to their knees.”
On the other side of the field, Farmington’s defense, spearheaded by sweeper Anthony Klepac, sparkled. Los Alamos initially tried to attack Farmington’s wing with forward Davis Anson and midfielder Nic Castaño making some good runs down the sideline.
Castaño set up forward Daniel Rodriguez for Los Alamos’ best scoring opportunity of the contest, that coming in the 6th minute.
Castaño’s run down the right sideline attracted the attention of two Farmington fullbacks. As they charged at Castaño, he sent a diagonal pass right to Rodriguez’s feet. Rodriguez 1-touched the ball right at the near post, but couldn’t get enough on the kick to get it past Farmington goalkeeper Brycen Campbell.
The Scorpions were able to adjust in the back at about the midpoint of the first, rotating Klepac out to the wings to slow the Hilltoppers’ runs.
Farmington got on the board in the 25th minute with Riley McGovern catching Thaddeus Carter on a dead run through the usually-steadfast middle of the Hilltopper defense. Carter crushed a quick ball past Los Alamos goalkeeper Ryan Dunham who left the goal to try to cut off Carter's angle.
In extra time in the first half, Nathan Rodgers headed a goal in off Klepac’s well-placed corner kick.
Farmington’s veteran head coach, Pete Rankin, said he thought 2009 could be a very special season for his group of 13 seniors.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Rankin said. “This is a great group of seniors. They showed a lot of maturity and a lot of leadership this entire season. It’s been a very cohesive group.”
To get to Saturday’s state title game, Los Alamos had to survive a pair of nail-biters. Los Alamos clipped Roswell 1-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinal, with Dunham making six big stops in the second half of that contest to help hold on to that victory. A day later, Los Alamos had to survive two tension-filled overtimes to knock off Piedra Vista in a shootout.
Gartz said that his younger kids will head into the offseason with a world of confidence following their tournament run and their first state final appearance since 2003.
“The hopes are going to be higher next year,” Gartz said. “We’re not losing anyone in the midfield, our core defense is coming back....we’ve been looking forward to next year for four years now.”
Meanwhile, Saturday’s state title game was the final game in the careers of nine Hilltopper seniors: Spencer Schoonover, Oliver Funsten, Andre Appert, Davis Anson, Christian Hjelvik, Chris Montoya, Neil Gupta, Rodriguez and Dunham.
Los Alamos finishes the 2009 season with a record of 18-7.
Los Alamos 2, Piedra Vista 1 (shootout)
To get to the state championship contest, the Hilltoppers had to survive a nip-and-tuck contest with the giant-slayers of the Class AAAA bracket, Piedra Vista.
After being knotted 1-1 following two overtime periods, Friday morning’s semifinal went to a shootout.
Gartz elected not to put Funsten in at goalkeeper for the shootout, despite the fact that Funsten had played the regulation and overtime periods from start to finish. Instead, Gartz substituted Dunham into the contest for the shootout.
It turned out to be a good choice. Dunham blocked the second Piedra Vista penalty kick attempt, that by Cory Blackwater, to give the Hilltoppers the inside track. The next Piedra Vista attempt, by Ray DeKay, went well over the crossbar.
Hilltopper shooters Andy Thoma, David Wyman, Castaño and Chase Havemann all converted their kicks with little problem. Havemann, who tallied the Hilltoppers’ only goal Thursday against Roswell to help put his team into the semifinals, secured the shootout win, going just to the right of center of the goal while Panther goalkeeper July Shay guessed incorrectly, diving to the left.
In regulation, Los Alamos broke a scoreless tie when forward Paul Hemez was inadvertently tripped up in the penalty box by a Panther fullback. Thoma converted the ensuing penalty kick, that coming in the 49th minute, to give Los Alamos a 1-0 edge.
Piedra Vista would tie the game in the 65th minute, however. Alejandro Muñoz snuck through a big crowd in front of Los Alamos’ goal on a Piedra Vista corner kick to outjump the throng and knock a header into the Hilltopper net.
One day earlier, Piedra Vista (16-7) stunned St. Pius X (16-5), the seven-time defending Class AAAA boys soccer champion and a team which had not failed to make the championship game since the early 1990s. Piedra Vista’s victory over St. Pius, which was a solid favorite to win it all again in 2009, threw the door wide open for the rest of the AAAA field.
Los Alamos outshot Piedra Vista 14-7 in the game. Funsten recorded four saves in the contest, while Shay finished with three saves.