'Toppers sting Scorpions in quarterfinals, 1-0

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE – If style points counted, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team might have been in trouble Thursday.
But as it turns out, the Hilltoppers’ gritty effort would prove to be enough.
The Hilltoppers ousted the Farmington Scorpions from the state Class 4A tournament. Although the Scorpions controlled the ball most of the way, they would never find the back of the goal.
Los Alamos’ defense was up to the task and forced the game into a shootout. In the shootout, Los Alamos connected on four of five kicks from the mark to dump Farmington 1-0.
The Hilltopper-Scorpion quarterfinal contest was held at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex. The win puts the Hilltoppers into the state 4A semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons, but they would have a tough test against No. 2 seed Roswell today at the APS complex – results from that game weren’t available as of press time.
Against Farmington, the Scorpions were the aggressors for much of the contest. Los Alamos tried to chip its way through the formidable Farmington defense but didn’t make much headway, getting off only one shot in regulation and zero shots in the second half.
On the other end of the field, however, the Hilltopper defense was nearly as good. Although the Scorpions got off 12 shots in regulation, none of those were on goal and only had two noteworthy runs.
Los Alamos had gotten some good defensive play late in the season and was hoping that would spill over into the playoffs.
Hilltopper goalkeeper Chris Parker earned his second shutout of the postseason, To preserve the shutout Parker stopped two Farmington chances from the mark, including game-clinching save against Jorge Chavira.
“When it comes to PKs, I’m really worried about letting one in,” Parker said. “You just read it and go, read it and go. You try and read their hips, see where their hips are going and go off that. You just try and make the save.”
Los Alamos’ Alexi Ortega, the best penalty shooter on the team, was stuffed in the first attempt of the shootout by Farmington’s Connor Tornquist, one of the top-ranked keepers in Class 4A.
After Ortega, Farmington’s Nathaniel Pavlik drilled a shot into the top right corner to give the Scorpions the early advantage.
But Parker was more than up to the task. He blocked the next attempt by Isaac Valencia, whom the Scorpions had been feeding all game long, then actually got a hand on a laser shot from Raul Terrazas, but Terraza’s shot powered its way through to the net.
Following its initial miss, Los Alamos made its next four shots count, with Thomas Routiaux, Joe Roback, Brandon Hodges and Collin Stone all going inside the right post against Tornquist.
Los Alamos got its only shot of the game after the 15-minute mark in the second overtime period, when Stone broke through the back line chasing after a diagonal pass from the Hilltopper midfield.
Stone cut in at the top of the penalty box toward the goal. Tornquist came out to meet him, leaving the goal wide open, but Stone tried to sneak a flick past him. Tornquist had to dive to his left and just got enough of the attempt to knock it down and smother it.
The Scorpions (13-7) had not lost to a team outside of the state’s elite this season prior to Thursday’s upset. The Scorpions won state 4A titles in 2009, 2011 and was the runner-up to Chaparral last season.
But Los Alamos felt confident heading into Thursday’s game, even though it hadn’t fared well in recent years against the Scorpions.
“We knew they were possession-based, not too much speed up top but they’re very balanced,” Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said. “We knew if we stayed strong, defensively, kept our depth and thwarted attacks, we’d be fine.”
It was the second straight clean sheet for the Hilltoppers (12-10) in the postseason. They shut out the Centennial Hawks 2-0 in the opener of the 4A playoffs Saturday in Los Alamos.
“It feels so awesome. I’m so glad our team was able to play such a great defensive game,” Parker said. “I’m just really grateful to have this team with me this year.”
Los Alamos last won a state title in 2010. Last season, the Hilltoppers advanced to the semifinals but were shut out by eventual champion Chaparral 1-0.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, blanked the upset-minded Artesia Bulldogs 2-0 to move into today’s play.