Boys soccer: LA knocks off Capital, receives No. 5 seed for state

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — With just hours before the New Mexico Activities Association met to determine the seeding for the state Class AAAA boys soccer tournament, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers wanted to make sure they made a statement.

They did, but not enough of one to persuade the seeding committee it was worthy of a first-round bye.

The Hilltoppers put on a thoroughly dominant performance in the District 2AAAA championship game Saturday, scoring three times in just 14 minutes during the first half. They held on throughout the second half to secure a 3-1 victory over Capital at Jaguar Field.

Not only did Los Alamos clinch back-to-back 2AAAA titles with Saturday’s win, it put on a textbook-style passing display which a very tough Capital Jaguar team could never seem to catch up with.

“It took awhile to crack the defense,” Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz said. “They had 10 guys in the box and we scored twice against that. We kept our patience and we made our chances effective.”

However, Saturday’s victory didn’t afford Los Alamos a top-four seed. Los Alamos was seeded fifth in the state Class AAAA tournament and will play 12th-seeded Goddard either Friday or Saturday at Sullivan Field in the state tournament’s first round.

The top four seeds for the 2009 state tournament are St. Pius X, Albuquerque Academy, Farmington and Roswell. The winner between Los Alamos and Goddard will face fourth-seeded Roswell in the quarterfinal round Nov. 5.

Saturday’s decisive victory in the game was somewhat of a surprise. The two teams played a nip-and-tuck contest Oct. 6, with the Hilltoppers escaping Sullivan Field with a 1-0 victory.

But there was nothing close Saturday. Los Alamos fired off 15 shots in the contest, 10 in the first half, while Capital managed just five.

The Jaguars, even with the extra help on defense, couldn’t seem to catch up to the Hilltoppers precision short passing game. Two of the three Hilltopper goals were set up by quality short passes from inside 15 yards of the Capital posts.

“After the La Cueva game, we worked a lot on our speed of play,” Hilltopper Nic Castaño said, referring to a humbling 6-0 loss suffered on the road last Tuesday. “We’ve quickened things up. Our throw-ins have been quicker. Everything’s been at a faster pace.”

Forward Davis Anson scored twice for the Hilltoppers, putting goals in at the 22- and 30-minute marks.

Anson blew through the middle of the field twice, with the Jaguar defense trying to catch up, and knocked in his goals from short range to give the Hilltoppers a commanding 3-0 halftime lead.

Following the game, Anson said he wasn’t sweating the upcoming playoffs just yet.

For Saturday night, at least, he was going to enjoy the district title.

“It’s my senior year and it’s been a great senior year playing with these guys,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to have those opportunities and those goals.”

Anson finished as the top scorer on the season for Los Alamos, tallying 15 goals.

The Hilltoppers (14-6 overall, 8-0 in 2AAAA) went through the district schedule without a defeat for the second straight year, although they did fall one play short of their stated goal of finishing the district season unscored upon.

On one of the few offensive chances the Jaguars (15-3 overall, 6-2 in 2AAAA) could muster Saturday, Hector Oquedo was tripped-up in the Hilltopper penalty box. Douglas Membreno converted the ensuing penalty kick, which staved off the shutout loss for Capital.

Capital, which sports one of the best won-loss records in Class AAAA, earned itself an at-large bid despite Saturday’s loss.

The Hilltoppers expressed some concern about where they might fall in the bracket, whether they had a good enough argument to crack the top four and get a first-round bye.

Anson said he wasn’t sure even a 2-goal victory against a quality squad like Capital would put them as a top-four seed.

“We might get a four or five, we’re not really sure,” he said immediately after the game, before the brackets had been released. “It all depended on this game, pretty much.”

Los Alamos has in the past struggled at Capital, which sports a turf field similar to the field at the Albuquerque Soccer Complex, where the state tournament’s quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds will be held.

Los Alamos lost a key district game at Capital in 2007, one which very nearly cost it a bid to the postseason.

Andy Thoma scored the first goal of the contest for Los Alamos. Thoma, who also had an assist on Anson’s first goal, made a long run to catch up to a through-ball, slicing straight through the teeth of Capital’s defense to run the ball down and go to the upper-right corner of the goal.

Gartz said he’s generally pleased with what he’s seen from his team during the latter part of the season and hopes it can continue heading into the playoffs.

“We’re close (to peaking),” Gartz said. “We need a couple more good practices to get there.”