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Even though it was a contest between a No. 6 seed and a No. 11 seed, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team was well aware the Centennial Hawks weren’t going to be a pushover.
That would prove to be the case Saturday, but the Hilltoppers would prevail and advance to the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A tournament.
Los Alamos’ Collin Stone took advantage of two defensive miscues by Centennial and put both of those chances away as the Hilltoppers eliminated the Hawks 2-0 at Sullivan Field.
Stone put Los Alamos on the board in just over two minutes, making a sliding attack at the top of the penalty box when, on what appeared to be a routine goal kick, the Hawks inexplicably decided to make a long pass across the goal mouth and Stone got a foot on the pass, knocking it into the near post to give the Hilltoppers the early edge.
Early in the second half, Stone ran down a through-ball about 25 yards out from the Hawk goal. The Hawk defense seemed to respond well enough, but Centennial goalkeeper Luis Rodriguez came over all the way out to Stone to try to cut him off, although Stone didn’t appear to be in a threatening position at that point.
Stone made a juke move on Rodriguez, who bit. Stone then raced right past him and straight to the open goal for the second score.
“Up top, they were playing really flat,” said Stone, who has been Los Alamos’ leading scorer all season. “It was easy playing the ball in the corners….They were obviously a young team. Their school’s only been open for two years. We tried to play rough with them.”
The Hawks (13-8) are comprised mostly of sophomores, but their top scoring threat, Luis Cazares, was playing like anything but a youngster, particularly at the end of the ballgame with his team facing elimination.
Cazares made some late runs that gave Los Alamos’ defense pause and got off two nice shots, although both of them sailed wide, in the final 10 minutes.
Prior to that, however, Los Alamos played well on defense. Centennial came out trying to make, short, controlled passes, but abandoned that less than 20 minutes into the game as Los Alamos was intercepting or punching out many of those passes.
“It was good to shut down the middle,” said Los Alamos’ Matthew Ticknor, one of the Hilltoppers who was able to disrupt Centennial’s passing. “We shut off their stronger players.”
Both teams had 6 shots apiece through the midway point of the second. Centennial would end up outshooting Los Alamos 13-8 for the contest, although many of those shots by Centennial came in the endgame with the team desperately looking to get on the board.With Saturday’s win, Los Alamos advances to face the Farmington Scorpions, the No. 3 seed in Class 4A, Thursday morning in Albuquerque. Farmington topped Los Alamos in 2009 for the state title, 3-0, as well as winning in 2011 and advancing to the championship game last season.
The winner of that game would likely face Roswell in one of the 4A semifinal contests at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.
Stone said if the Hilltoppers can play against the Scoripions the way they played against the Hawks, they will have a chance to continue their stay in the tournament.
“For this game, I feel like it was hard work that won it,” he said. “But we need to do more passing, not hammering it in. We need to get a clean goal.”