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Chargers outlast Toppers in second half Thursday

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By Mike Cote

SANTA ANA PUEBLO — In Thursday’s Class AAAA state boys soccer semifinal, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys made almost every shot count.Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers there wasn’t enough of them.Los Alamos got off only three shots in Thursday’s semifinal against the Albuquerque Academy Chargers, but two of them found their way into the onion bag in the first half, as the ’Toppers held a 2-1 edge going into the halftime break.But it would be the Chargers supplying all the offense in the second half Thursday, scoring a pair of goals in the latter part of the bottom half to win 3-2 and advance to today’s Class AAAA final.The semifinal was played at the Farmers Insurance Soccer Complex, just east of Bernalillo.Academy will see a familiar face in the final, St. Pius X, which plays in the same 5AAAA district as the Chargers. St. Pius, the odds-on favorite to win its sixth straight state title, beat up on Farmington 3-0 to advance to the championship. The title game is set for 7:30 p.m.“Obviously, they got the upper hand,” Hilltopper striker Ryota Shimada said following the loss, which ended Los Alamos’ 2007 season. “We lacked a little intensity.”The Hilltoppers, who until only about three weeks ago had struggled all season playing with a lead, weren’t able to put any kind of a run together in the second half, even after the late goal by Conner Stern put the Chargers up for the first time in the contest.Stern picked up a rebound on the 73rd minute just in front of the Los Alamos goal and lined a shot right past Grant Janecky for what would be the game-winner.The two-goal second half marred what was otherwise an excellent defensive effort by the ’Toppers against some big Charger scoring threats.“The defense played well,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “When you play a great team like that, it’s hard to stay up the whole time against an attack like that.”Academy didn’t have any more success manufacturing shots in the first half than did Los Alamos. The Chargers put just four shots up in the half, the only successful one a wild, bouncing direct kick from Jayanta Majumdar, which hit a Hilltopper wall player on the shoulder, hit the crossbar, hit Janecky and just rolled over the endline.That goal, in the 21st minute, tied the score at 1-1, but Los Alamos would retake the lead in the 33rd minute.Shimada outfought an Academy midfielder for a 50-50 ball and dribbled down the left side of the field, cutting in at the top of the penalty box, then sent a shot tailing away from Academy keeper Garrett Nygren to put the ’Toppers back up.John Urbane headed in an excellent cross from Danny Birdsell in the 14th minute to give the Hilltoppers the early edge.Despite the lack of offensive push in the second half, the Hilltoppers kept their 1-goal edge throughout most of the second half.But the ’Topper defense, led by sweeper Marcus Cappiello, finally cracked in the 64th minute.Academy’s Darren McAfee put a cross past the mouth of the goal to Ian Rosado, who put a quick shot on goal to even the score, and set up Stern’s heroics in the 73rd minute.It was the second loss of the season by the ’Toppers to the Chargers (17-6). The Chargers knocked off the ’Toppers during the regular season 4-2 on Sept. 18.“It was great that everybody put the effort in,” Shimada said. “A month ago we were at the bottom…we won a handful of important games and got this far.”There was some serious question in 2007 whether Los Alamos would even be able to qualify for the post-season, something it had missed out on only twice in the history of the program.But the Hilltoppers, who end the regular season with a mark of 14-9, knocked off Taos and Capital — both of which qualified for the post-season themselves — to earn the District 2AAAA runner-up spot and advance to last week’s World Cup playoffs. Then, in the playoffs, the Hilltoppers bumped off third-seeded Roswell to advance to Thursday’s semifinal.“The boys did what they could,” Gartz said. “They faced a lot of stuff, they had their backs against the wall the whole second half of the season. But the boys showed what it means to play mental soccer…being in the top four is nothing to be ashamed of.”