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ALBUQUERQUE — The onus was on the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team’s defense to slow down the top scorer in Class 4A.
And, aside for a breakaway early in the second half, the Hilltoppers were up to the task.
Los Alamos limited the touches of Los Lunas striker Alejandro Garcia for much of Thursday’s Class 4A quarterfinal. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers struck twice, once in the first half and once in the second half, to earn a 2-1 victory over Los Lunas’ Tigers and advance to the Class 4A semifinals.
Los Alamos’ semifinal contest was scheduled for this afternoon at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex against second-seeded Chaparral.
It was a rough game, however, with neither team being able to connect passes on their offensive ends.
Prior to the win, the Hilltoppers had been on a layoff since Oct. 23. Los Alamos goalkeeper Chris Parker said the time off had an effect on the team.
“We didn’t play as well as we should’ve,” he said. “I’m grateful the team was able to pull this off and have another day at state.”
Late in the contest, both teams seemed to resort to boot-ball instead of trying to work through the other’s defense. Surprisingly, the Hilltoppers fared little better than did the Tigers in coordinating an offensive attack against what has been in 2012 a porous Tiger defense.
One of Los Alamos' goals came with just seconds remaining in the first half and the other came on a corner kick that slipped through the fingers of Los Lunas goalkeeper Dylan Romero.
Nick Thoma, who just missed putting Los Alamos on the board with a flying header in the first half, scored off a rebound off a direct kick from Henry Steinkamp in the 40th minute.
Steinkamp's initial direct kick was blocked by Romero, but squirted away to Michael Maestas on the right side. Maestas sent a kick back toward the goal mouth that found its way to Thoma's feet on the left side, giving the Hilltoppers a 1-0 edge just before the break.
The Hilltopper defense, which had played well — Cameron Wilson had a big game coming off the bench to shore up the defensive effort — had a major breakdown early in the second half.
Garcia, who entered the game having scored 38 goals during the regular season, found himself all alone about 30 yards from the Hilltopper goal when a long through-ball came right to his feet.
Garcia dribbled past Los Alamos' defense and beat Parker 1-on-1, knocking an easy shot into the opposite corner to tie the score.
Los Lunas (15-7), the sixth seed in the 4A bracket, actually outshot Los Alamos in the second half 6-3. The two teams both had 12 shots for the game.
Rohun Iyer's corner kick at the 60-minute mark, which Romero couldn't find the handle on, proved to be the difference in the contest. Los Lunas attempted a late-game rally, but managed to get just one shot off in the last 10 minutes.
For the Hilltoppers (14-7), who came into the tournament as the No. 3 overall seed, they moved on to their third semifinal contest in four years with Thursday’s victory. The Hilltoppers won the 2010 state championship.
In goal, Parker finished with 7 saves, but also got banged up late in the game on an inadvertent collision with Garcia when both of them were going after the same through-ball that Parker got to a step ahead of Garcia.
Chaparral, Los Alamos' opponent today, is a bit of an unknown quantity. The Lobos at 18-2 had one of the best regular seasons of any team in 4A but played a relativley soft schedule in 2012.