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ALBUQUERQUE — With its 1-0 victory Thursday over the Roswell Coyotes, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team is in the mix of a suddenly wide-open Class AAAA championship race.
Los Alamos staved off a furious charge from Roswell at the end of Thursday’s AAAA quarterfinal game to preserve a shutout victory, pulling off a small upset at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.
A bigger upset, however, was brewing only about 100 yards away when the Piedra Vista Panthers, a huge underdog, stunned the St. Pius X Sartans 3-2 in a concurrent playoff game.
The Sartans, the seven-time defending Class AAAA champions and the top seed in this season’s tournament, were prohibitive favorites heading into the 2009 playoffs. Now, the AAAA title is completely up for grabs.
The Hilltoppers scored the lone goal of Thursday’s game when David Wyman, looking through a crowd on the right side of the field about 40 yards away from Roswell’s goal, somehow found Chase Havemann making a long run down the left side of the field. Havemann picked up the ball on a near dead-run and went across the body of Coyote goalkeeper Rafael Vigil into the far post.
“That’s exactly the way we want to play,” Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said after the win. “We wanted to get our outside-mids going down the field. David Wyman saw Chase and made a great pass to him.”
Beyond the goal, however, the key to Thursday’s contest was the play of the Hilltopper defensive third of the field.
Fullback Chris Montoya was charged with the task of marking Roswell’s Oscar Vela, the leading goal scorer in the state of New Mexico.
Vela went into the game with a whopping 35 goals on the season — only a handful of players in the state finished within 10 goals of that figure — but outside of one good shot, which Vela missed way high and wide, Roswell’s main offensive threat was neutralized.
Montoya was well aware of his huge responsibility heading into Thursday’s game.
“I’ve had to mark him before,” Montoya said. “You have to watch where he is and make sure you’re always on him. Don’t let him get away.”
Vela rarely did.
The Coyotes (17-4) made no bones heading into the game that they were an offensive-minded team, but got off only two shots in the first half, only one of which needed to be stopped by Hilltopper goalkeeper Ryan Dunham.
Dunham gave high marks to the defense in front of him for Thursday’s shutout, particularly to Montoya.
“(Vela) didn’t get anything at all, thanks to Chris,” said Dunham. “If you step to the ball before him, he doesn’t get a chance.”
It was the second time in three seasons the Hilltoppers had beaten the Coyotes in the playoffs. They topped the Coyotes in the 2007 World Cup round in Vela’s freshman season, 4-2.
Havemann’s goal came in the 21st minute, but Los Alamos kept control of the tempo throughout the opening half. Roswell’s first shot didn’t come until the 27th minute.
Roswell got off some better shots in the second half, however. Vela’s first shot of the ballgame, coming at the 44-minute mark, was at point-blank range, but Dunham got his hands up in time to snag the shot out of the air.
Dunham finished with six saves, five of those in the second half and three of those coming in the final seven minutes of regulation.
Los Alamos outshot Roswell 13-12 in the contest.
The victory put the Hilltoppers into today’s quarterfinals — the results of today’s game weren’t available at press time — against Piedra Vista. The winner of that game advanced to take on the winner between Albuquerque Academy and Farmington.
The Hilltoppers (16-6) were vying this morning for their first state title game appearance since 2003. Their last state championship came in 1986.