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Boys soccer: Toppers pick up big win vs. district champ Taos

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By Mike Cote

TAOS — In its quest to regain the District 2AAAA heavyweight belt, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team needed to rough up the champ.

Round one to the Hilltoppers.

Los Alamos trailed for a good portion of Tuesday’s game at Anaya Field, but a pair of second-half goals by team captain Michael Leslie gave Los Alamos a big 3-2 district road win.

Leslie scored off a corner kick by Jason Reagor in the second half to give the Hilltoppers their lone lead of the contest, blasting a shot inside the left post after the corner kick dropped almost right at his feet.

Taos’ Tigers. playing their first 2AAAA contest of 2008, are the defending district champion, a title they grabbed largely on the strength of a stunning win at Los Alamos in 2007. Los Alamos would steal the second game of the home-and-home series at Taos late that season, a game that might have cost it a trip to the playoffs had it lost.

But Tuesday’s win on the road gives the Hilltoppers a big boost and full control of the District 2AAAA race.

“It’s a good start,” Leslie said after the contest. “We still have to beat (Taos) at home and Capital away. That’s always a challenge for us. Those will be our biggest games.”

It was a rough, contentious first half with a pair of yellow cards handed out — one to Los Alamos, one to Taos — and lots of pushing and shoving, some called, some uncalled.

Los Alamos’ 2AAAA game against Capital Saturday, a 5-3 Hilltopper win, was a bruising and often dirty affair which some of the Hilltoppers were complaining about afterward.

Heading into Tuesday’s game, Los Alamos was ready for much of the same thing. And Los Alamos’ defense was ready for one of its biggest challenges of the season.

Patrick Pacheco, Taos’ one man wrecking crew, picked up an assist on the Tigers’ second goal, a quick pass right to Anton Cruz’s feet. Cruz blasted an initial shot that bounced off Los Alamos goalkeeper Ryan Dunham’s hands and right back to Cruz, who knocked in a second chance.

Pacheco made some lightning fast runs in the first half down the left sideline and had a couple of near-misses early on. Heading into the second half, the Hilltoppers felt they had to do something to neutralize Pacheco.

The base to Pacheco’s acid turned out to be fullback David Bjorklund. Bjorklund thwarted Pacheco throughout the second half and other than the assist to Cruz, he was largely a non-factor throughout the balance of the contest.

Despite Bjorklund’s solid effort marking Tao’s big threat, Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said he wasn’t altogether thrilled about Los Alamos’ team defensive performance.

“We tried to keep the ball on their side of the field, which we did,” Gartz said. “The whole game, we possessed the ball about 70 percent of the time. Giving them two goals with that kind of possession is unacceptable.”

Los Alamos had to scramble to catch-up much of the way, something it was hoping to avoid coming in.

Once it had the lead, though, it sealed the victory nicely.

Following Leslie’s second goal, coming in the 68th minute, Los Alamos dominated possession through the balance of the game, getting off seven shots in the final 12 minutes plus extra time to just one for Taos.

That last Taos shot, however, was one of a number of wild moments in front of the goal that took place the whole way.

Connor O’Brien found the handle on a Rowan Bateman punt and raced down the center of the field, while Dunham — who has been filling in for injured starter Oliver Funsten for virtually the entire month of September — decided to break out of the goal at the last second to cut off O’Brien’s angle.

Dunham, who finished the contest with four saves, stuffed O’Brien about 10 yards from the goal, killing the last serious threat the Tigers would have.

O’Brien had the first goal of the game for Taos (7-4 overall, 0-1 in 2AAAA) converting off a Marco Valencia corner kick which dropped right in front of him. O’Brien had an unmarked look and hit a laser shot inside the left post.

Los Alamos would tie the score at 1-1, where it remained going into the halftime break. Dion Obermeyer picked up a through-ball which skipped past Bateman and one-touched it to Andy Thoma for the equalizer.

At the 50th minute, Leslie picked up a miskicked clearing attempt by the Taos defense and banged it right back toward the Taos goal to tie the score at 2-2.

Leslie’s third goal gave the Hilltoppers (8-3 overall, 3-0 in district) their sixth straight win.

“I could see an opening,” Leslie said of his game-winner. “I could see how the ball would head right into the goal…it worked out well.”