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Playing for little more than to complete the stated goal of going undefeated in District 2AAAA, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team knocked off the Taos Tigers Saturday.
Los Alamos picked up three first-half goals and hung on through a late Taos rally to win 3-2 Saturday at Sullivan Field.
With the win, the Hilltoppers finished the 2AAAA season a spotless 7-0 (14-4 overall). A scheduled game a week earlier against Española Valley which was postponed due to weather won’t be made up — it would have had no meaningful impact on the district standings.
Saturday’s win over Taos wasn’t without some hiccups however. A slew of yellow cards were handed out by the officials, who let the game get completely out of control in the second half.
In all, eight yellow cards were handed out, six of them going to Taos. A pair of double-yellow cards were issued, although the second pair appeared to be issued for nothing more than incidental contact in front of the Taos goal.
Other than an early goal by Taos’ Conner O’Brien and a late goal by Taos’ Patrick Pacheco, the game was largely dictated by the Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers finished with 16 shots to just eight for the Tigers.
“We were pretty relaxed,” Los Alamos’ Andy Thoma said. “We beat them last time (Sept. 30 in Taos). We knew they’d come out hard like they did.”
While the Hilltoppers had to find internal motivation, the Tigers came into Saturday’s contest with some external motivation.
Because Los Alamos clinched the district championship — which was won by Taos in 2007 — it is the only district team that is guaranteed a spot in the 2008 playoffs. Capital, which beat Taos twice in district play, has already clinched the district runner-up spot and has at this point a better argument for being selected to the World Cup pool play field of 12.
The state tournament starts Oct. 30 at Bernalillo.
Los Alamos scored its three goals in quick succession in the first half.
The first goal was started by a short-range header from Dion Obermeyer, whose shot was nicked just off-line by a Taos defender and over the end line.
On the ensuing corner kick, Jason Reagor put a low liner right at the right foot of Adam Nekimken, whose 1-touch shot got inside the left post, tying the score at 1-1 in the 24th minute.
About 90 seconds later, Matt Leslie’s throw-in inside Taos territory pinballed off several Taos defenders before ending up at the feet of Thoma. Thoma chipped the ball over the head of Taos goalkeeper Rowan Bateman who came out of goal to assist his defense in clearing the ball.
Jon Thoma scored the third Hilltopper goal in the 28th minute, getting the handle on a long centering pass and putting another 1-touch shot in the upper left corner for what would ultimately be the difference in the contest.
The win came just four days after two big happenings for the team, one on the field one off the field.
Tuesday, Los Alamos cleared its final biggest hurdle to regain the district crown with a 4-0 win over Capital. That night, however, two Hilltopper starters — both seniors — were cited for minor in possession of alcohol. Barring a successful appeal, both will miss out on the AAAA playoffs.
Although it was a tough situation for the team, Los Alamos will simply try to push through it.
“We’ve got to keep playing hard,” Andy Thoma said. “We’re a deep team, but some younger guys have got to step it up. We can still handle the rest of the season.”
Oliver Funsten, who missed the bulk of the regular season with injury, earned the victory in goal for the Hilltoppers, collecting three saves.
NOTES: Los Alamos’ senior class was honored at halftime Saturday ... The final game of the regular season for the Hilltoppers is Tuesday at home against La Cueva, currently the top-ranked team in Class AAAAA ... The two teams met late in the 2007 season with La Cueva’s Bears winning 7-0.