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LA comes back to top St. Michael's

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By Mike Cote

It was a struggle for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team Tuesday night playing under a nonstop rain shower.

It got worse early in the second half when the Hilltoppers fell behind.

However, Los Alamos managed to power through both the rain and the St. Michael’s Horsemen to pick up a second consecutive victory over a quality opponent. Los Alamos made two of its 10 corner kick chances count to upend the Horsemen 2-1 at Sullivan Field.

Los Alamos dominated possession against St. Mike’s, but the rain-soaked field made passing difficult and Los Alamos had trouble getting a handle on the ball when the offense made its runs.

“It was really hard to keep good touch on the ball,” said Los Alamos forward Collin Stone. “It’s a really big change of pace when the ball bounces around quickly.”

Despite the adjustments Los Alamos had to make – the Hilltoppers did a better job with passing control in the second half – it still got off 7 shots in the first half to none for St. Mike’s. St. Mike’s never had anything resembling a sustained attack except in the final 10 minutes of the game.

However, on its only shot up to that point, the Horsemen (2-2) found the net.

The Hilltoppers were whistled for pushing just outside the 18-yard box, a call that was heavily disputed by head coach Evan Gartz. On the ensuing direct kick, St. Mike’s Brendan Cullen dumped a short pass to Abraham Rodriguez, who took one dribble and powered a shot toward the goal.

Hilltopper goalkeeper Chris Parker dove for it and initially appeared to catch the shot, but the ball squirted out of his hands and in.

Gartz was fuming following the foul call and was even issued a yellow card, but he said the St. Mike’s score steeled his team.

“It was kind of a lucky goal, but what I was happy about was that we didn’t make any mental mistakes in the back,” he said. “The boys knew we shouldn’t have been down one goal.”

But Los Alamos was able to rebound well from the initial disappointment.

The Hilltoppers made two of their corner kick chances count in the second half. Eric Schmalz, who is usually in charge of the corner kicks, put his 61st minute and 64th minute attempt right where they needed to be.

Forward Alexi Ortega and fullback Skylar Veenis were credited with the goals, while Stone got credit for an assist.

For Stone, it was his eighth point in the past two games. He scored three times and had an assist in the Hilltoppers’ big win over St. Pius X last week.

Schmalz said after the game the team has put a lot of work in recently on chances from the corner and for him particularly putting the ball where his teammates can get a head on it.

“The guys are attacking the ball with more confidence,” Schmalz said.

Los Alamos outshot St. Mike’s 15-3. St. Mike’s only other two shots came as time wound down and only one was on frame.