Girls soccer: Bulldawgs top LA in shootout

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — For the second straight game, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team held an opponent scoreless through the duration.

And for the second straight game, the Hilltoppers had nothing to show for it.

Los Alamos blanked the Las Cruces Bulldawgs in their first round game of the Albuquerque Academy Invitational Thursday but couldn’t come up with a tally on the other end.

In the shootout, Los Alamos misfired on two attempts and Las Cruces goalkeeper Nikki Rosales jumped on top of a third attempt. Only Kelsey Neal converted her penalty kick as the Hilltoppers fell 3-1 in the shootout.

With the loss, the Hilltoppers dropped into the consolation bracket of the tournament and were scheduled to play Hope Christian this afternoon.

Los Alamos outshot Las Cruces 23-15 in the contest but was blanked for the second straight outing. Moriarty took a shootout decision over Los Alamos Aug. 26.

While Los Alamos’ defense was exceptional Thursday, the offense struggled to get on the same page despite several chances.

“We played flat,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said of his offense. “We had three or four people attacking, but everyone else would sit on defense. In the second half we did a better job, but no one was there in the first half.”

Senior striker Maneesha Chitanvis and the speedy Hilltopper front line were able on several occasions to get through the Las Cruces defense, but the Hilltoppers were unable to complete a lot of runs early, especially through the middle.

Heading into the season, Kubicek said that was going to be one of the team’s biggest challenges and so far in 2008 that has proven to be the case. Los Alamos has scored just six goals in four outings, three of those coming in its season opener against Piedra Vista.

Los Alamos can’t complain much about its defense, however, having now gone four straight periods — regulation and overtime — without surrendering a goal.

The defense has allowed just one goal on the season, something it takes a lot of pride in.

“They’ve been doing great all season,” Hilltopper goalkeeper Jenny Tumas said of the defense in front of her. “We’re staying with our marks. Shaina (Riciputi) has been doing a great job at sweeper. Everybody has been doing a great job.”

While the lack of goals might seem to be putting undue pressure on the Hilltopper defense, that hasn’t been the case.

“It’s what we practice,” Riciputi said. “No matter what the score is, you don’t want them to score on you. The fact we didn’t score doesn’t matter.”

Perhaps sensing the fast-approaching shootout — something Kubicek’s young team has been very spotty with in practice — Los Alamos stepped up its attack in the overtime periods, outshooting the Bulldawgs 9-4 in the final 20 minutes.

Los Alamos had several near misses in the two periods, including some of the best scoring opportunities it was able to set up for itself in the contest.

In the waning moments of the first overtime period, Los Alamos had two short-range opportunities off a Saya Shimada corner kick before Rosales finally smothered the ball.

In the second overtime period, Chitanvis hit a left-footer from the left wing that ended up on top of the net. Just before the final whistle of that period, Heather Walters belted a 40-yarder that sailed right over the crossbar.

Generally, Los Alamos set itself up with better opportunities than did Las Cruces for most of the contest. In the opening minutes, the Bulldawgs got some of their best looks, missing a close-range attempt wide in the second minute and putting a shot-on-goal in the ninth minute.

For the game, Tumas finished with six saves, five in regulation.

Tumas also stuffed a penalty kick during the shootout, getting her left hand on a ground ball from Las Cruces’ Kelsey Baker.  It was Tumas’ first stop of a penalty kick this season.

“It feels good,” she said. “It’s good when (a teammate) misses one to keep one out. It keeps everyone pumped.”

Tumas’ stop kept the Hilltoppers’ shootout hopes alive — Las Cruces was up 1-0 at that point — but two misses in the next three attempts by the Hilltoppers, plus a pair of Bulldawg conversions, would ice the contest.

All the first round games at the Academy Invitational were shutouts, with Academy topping Farmington 2-0, Sandia Prep beating Mayfield 3-0 and Hope falling to Rio Rancho 1-0.