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LA girls eliminated by Panthers in first round

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By Mike Cote

 It’s a first for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team, although it’s a first the Hilltoppers didn’t want.

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Since joining Class 4A under its current alignment in 2000, the Hilltoppers have never failed to get to at least the 4A state tournament semifinals. It’s an impressive streak, but that streak came to an end Saturday.

Los Alamos, taking on the Piedra Vista Panthers, a team it had handled well two weeks earlier, struggled against the Panthers to sustain an attack. Los Alamos couldn’t counter after Piedra Vista’s Peyton Pigford connected on 35-yard direct kick for the equalizer at the 67-minute mark.

The game went into a shootout, and in the shootout, Pigford again came through, making the final kick from the mark count as the Panthers upset the Hilltoppers 2-1 in the first round of the 4A playoffs at Sullivan Field.

Throughout much of the second half and the two overtime periods, Piedra Vista was the more physical and more aggressive of the two squads. Although Pieidra Vista got off only one shot in each of the overtime periods, it controlled the flow for virtually the entire second OT.

Although it wasn’t sharp after Meghan McDonald’s goal in the 53rd minute, Los Alamos appeared poised to escape with a victory.

Los Alamos fell behind 1-0 early in the shootout but went up 2-1 after Catie McDonald and Stephanie Blair both sent bullets into the net. Piedra Vista, however, would make five of its next six attempts count, including Pigford’s shot that went top shelf just over the glove of Hilltopper goalkeeper Elena Atencio.

The two teams met Oct. 19 at Sullivan Field and that game was all Los Alamos. Catie McDonald scored twice and had two assists in the game to lead the Hilltoppers to a 4-0 rout of the Panthers.

It appeared like Los Alamos would again have a shot to drop Piedra Vista. Although it wouldn’t get on the board until Meghan McDonald’s 1-touch goal, Los Alamos outshot Piedra Vista 10-0 before the break.

Piedra Vista (10-11) only got off two shots in regulation, but Pigford made her direct kick count, sending a curve into the upper-left corner just out of Atencio’s reach.

The Hilltopper defense had an outstanding contest in the losing effort Saturday.

Led by Stephanie Blair, one of the Hilltoppers’ best fullbacks in recent history, the defense turned away all of the Panthers’ few good runs and the Panthers’ top scoring threat, Jenna Brown, barely touched the ball in regulation, being marked deftly by Jessica Heronimus.

Meghan McDonald, playing in her final game for the Hilltoppers, made a quick run to the top of the penalty box in the 53rd minute, splitting a pair of defenders and putting a toe on a loose ball into the near post for the only Los Alamos goal of the game.

The 2013 season ended for Los Alamos with a won-loss mark of 10-11. Also wrapping up their careers Saturday were Atencio, Blair, Kaitlin Lemke, Kristin Funsten, Chandler Art and Julia Haagenstad.