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SANTA FE — There was quite a bit, including a fair chunk of pride, on the line Tuesday night.
For the second year in a row, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team and the Capital Jaguars met at Jaguar Field for the Hilltoppers’ season finale with the District 2-4A championship on the line.
But this time, the Hilltoppers, after falling behind, were able to mount a comeback.
Los Alamos had to bounce back after a quick-strike goal in the 6th minute by the Jaguars. It wouldn’t take long for Los Alamos to answer or claim the lead, however.
The Hilltoppers scored their goals just about a minute apart and held on the rest of the way to claim a 2-1 victory Tuesday.
More importantly, the Hilltoppers earned the 2012 District 2-4A championship with the win. The two teams are tied in the loss column — Capital has one more district game remaining — but the Hilltoppers pick up the tiebreaker, finishing with more net goals than the Jaguars.
Los Alamos midfielder Henry Steinkamp, who was injured on what was the deciding play of the 2011 contest between the two teams, turned in another big performance, scoring the equalizing goal in the 11th minute, then sending a corner kick straight to the head of Brady Stokes in the 12th minute for the go-ahead goal that would ultimately prove to be the difference.
Capital didn’t go down quietly, however. It was able to move the ball into Los Alamos territory most of the night, keeping the Hilltopper back line on its toes.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Los Alamos goalkeeper Chris Parker. “They were moving the ball well. It’s hard, but you have to trust your defense and I trust these guys. I’m playing a good team, but I have a good team. It was a good match.”
Parker said the defense needed time to settle in at the start of the game, but the Jaguars didn’t give them that time. Just six minutes in, Capital forward Alexis Romo outraced the Hilltopper defense on the right side to a through-ball from Luis Rios-Olivas for a score.
Los Alamos, which lost the teams’ first meeting Oct. 6 by a 1-0 count, seemed to be hit by a new sense of urgency and immediately got its potent counterattack game going.
At the 11-minute mark, the Hilltoppers forced a turnover in their own territory and rushed down the field. Steinkamp booted the ball in from the right side through a scrum near the Jaguar goal mouth past Kevin Gomez to knot the score at 1-1.
Gomez, one of the top goalkeepers in Class 4A, would again get lost in the crowd during Steinkamp’s corner kick, which sailed straight to Stokes, whose header went straight to the back of the net on the left side.
Stokes, a senior, had arguably the biggest game of his career. In addition to the goal, his first of 2012, Stokes also helped solidify the defense following the initial Capital score. He, Ben Stewart and Gabriel Montoya were effective in funneling the Jaguar strikers into the corners instead of allowing them free run down the middle of the field.
Along with the district title, Los Alamos also clinched a berth in the Class 4A state playoffs and appears to be in-line for one of the top four seeds, which would give the team a bye into the quarterfinal round, which starts Nov. 8 — the playoff bracket is due to be released by the New Mexico Activities Association Sunday.
Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz, who said going into Tuesday’s game that his team had been warming up for Capital for more than a week, knew that even with the extra workout time, his team was in for a dogfight.
“This is a hard place to play,” he said. “The home crowd is good. It’s very tough to win here. I’m really proud of the guys to battle back after being down so quickly.”