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A long, grinding week got off to a rough start for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team Tuesday night.
The Hilltoppers got through an initial offensive push by the La Cueva Bears Tuesday at Sullivan Field, taking an early lead. But the Bears scored twice later in the first half and twice more in the second half. The Hilltoppers earned a late goal in the contest, but it wasn’t enough as the Bears held on for a 4-3 victory.
The Bears, ranked No. 4 in last week’s Class 5A coaches’ poll, had the Hilltoppers back on their heels for most of the contest.
Despite scoring three goals, the Hilltoppers (6-2) weren’t able to mount much of a sustained attack Tuesday.
Two of the goals came on corner kicks and the other came following a centering pass from Amy Neal under heavy pressure by La Cueva’s Casie Boren.
Neal, the leading scorer in Class 4A, had seen very little defense geared toward stopping her this season before Tuesday. But Boren and a rotating corps of defenders marked her closely through, relegating her mostly to runs down the sidelines and kept her away from the middle of the field.
“We didn’t control the middle,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “We couldn’t get any kind of passing going…We had some sophomores playing and they were kind of pushed around. La Cueva was very physical and we couldn’t match up.”
Neal picked up an assist on the 59th-minute goal. With Boren all over her in the left corner, Neal sent a fantastic centering pass just to the left of La Cueva goalkeeper Samantha Johnson and right to Jordan Ahlers, who sent a roller past Johnson inside the right post.
That goal tied the score at 2-2 after La Cueva scored late in the first half to take a lead heading into the break.
For the Bears, Morgan Kellogg scored three times, including what would be the game-winner in the 69th minute, deflecting a hard direct kick into the goal from Emily Chavez.
Kellogg and Dee Johnson both gave the Hilltopper defense fits throughout, as did Shayla Malecki, who scored La Cueva’s other goal just two minutes before Kellogg’s hat-trick goal.
The Bears (5-1) finished the game with 18 shots on the contest, while the Hiltoppers had six. The Hilltoppers were kept without a shot for 42 minutes, from the midpoint of the first half until the midpoint of the second half.
“We played sluggish,” Kubicek said. “It was not our best game, but we were in it.”
Tuesday’s game was a rough one, with plenty of pushing and shoving to go around, and with very little of it whistled, something that Kubicek thought took his team out of its game.
It was the first game of a three tough contests for the Hilltoppers this week, although they play all of those contests at home.
Thursday, Los Alamos will take on the Rio Rancho Rams, whom they beat Sept. 1 in Rio Rancho, 2-1. Following that, Los Alamos will have a rematch with the Albuquerque Academy Chargers Saturday. Those two teams met in the third-place game of the Academy Invitational last weekend, with Los Alamos prevailing 2-1 in overtime.
Kubicek said his team wouldn’t do much more than have a quick meeting this afternoon to discuss Tuesday’s game so his players would have a chance to rest up for Rio Rancho, the No. 3 team in the 5A coaches’ poll.
Los Alamos went up 1-0 at the 14-minute mark of the first half. Laura Wendelberger bent a corner kick straight toward the Rio Rancho goal, which went off the hands of Taylor Chagnon before finding the net.
With just three minutes remaining in regulation and the Hilltoppers trailing 4-2, Neal headed in a corner kick from Jennifer Paul to get the Hilltoppers back into the game.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, they couldn’t muster another late offensive push to try to get the equalizer.
The loss was the second in three games for the Hilltoppers, who fell in the semifinal round game of the Academy tournament to Las Cruces, another 5A program.