Girls soccer: LA advances to 4A title game but falls in finale to Academy

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ALBUQUERQUE — An improbable run through the state Class AAAA playoffs came to an end for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team, exactly the way it had for each of the previous two seasons.
Los Alamos, the No. 6 seed in the AAAA postseason, upended a pair of tough opponents in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the playoffs, but couldn’t overcome the final, biggest hurdle, falling to the Albuquerque Academy Chargers Saturday morning.
The Chargers scores three times in the first half of Saturday’s game at Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex and held on to win 3-1.
Los Alamos’ Amy Neal, who was one of the standout performers of the entire tournament, scored the team’s lone goal late, but it wouldn’t be enough to spark the comeback the team would need.
It was a strange season in 2010 for many reasons, not the least of which was having both Los Alamos and St. Pius X, fixtures in the AAAA final four, both seeded lower than usual — St. Pius’ Sartans were the No. 5 seed going in.
However, Los Alamos, St. Pius and Academy, as is almost invariably the case, all made it through the semifinal round despite the seeding.
But the Chargers were the without a doubt the dominant force in the classification in 2010 and proved it with the victory Saturday.
The Chargers earned goals in the fifth, 29th and 40th minutes to take the commanding lead in the opening half and cruise to the victory.
Emma Clapp scored the first goal of the night for the Chargers, followed by Darcy Odom and MacKenzie Miller.
It was the third straight AAAA title for Academy, which victimized Los Alamos in each of those contests.
In both 2008 and 2009, Academy bounced back to win the title after having lost to Los Alamos during the regular season.
To get to their third straight final, the Hilltoppers knocked off both the third-seeded Farmington Scorpions in the quarterfinals and the second-seeded Aztec Tigers in the semifinals, winning both contests handily.
Los Alamos last won the state tournament in 2003.

Los Alamos 3, Aztec 1

In a rematch of the finale of the 2010 regular season for both squads, the Hilltoppers got their offense cranked up in the latter portion of the first half to pick up the victory.
The Tigers, who have been one of the stingiest defenses in Class AAAA this season, had no one to keep up with Neal, who made several runs straight through the heart of their defense.
Neal scored what would be the game winner in the waning moments of the first half, making a beautiful run down the right side right past Aztec’s Hailee Ammons, then sliced directly toward the near post.
As she’d done several times against Kirtland Central and Farmington, the Hilltoppers’ first two tournament opponents, Neal set herself up with a 1-on-1 opportunity and went far post with her shot, well out of the reach of Aztec goalkeeper Kaitlyn Farmer.
To cap the contest off, Neal hit a 1-touch shot off a short pass from Naomi Movshovich just inside the right post in the 57th minute.
That goal seemed to completely crush the spirits of the Tigers, whose 2010 season was one of the better seasons in program history. The Tigers survived the very tough District 1AAAA race to grab the No. 2 seed in the state tournament.
Aztec struck early in the contest, which, based on the teams’ 2-1 shootout victory by Los Alamos, seemed like it might be an offensively-sluggish affair. Kristie Thatcher rebounded a loose ball in front of the Hilltopper goal off a direct kick to score and take a 1-0 lead 18 minutes into the contest.
About nine minutes later, Lindsay Benage outleaped a crowd in front of Aztec’s goal to bang a header into the right side and tie the score. Stephanie Blair, who had an impressive showing on the Hilltoppers’ back line Friday, provided the Hilltoppers’ corner kick.
Aztec actually outshot Los Alamos 12-11 in the contest. Los Alamos goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld finished with two saves while Farmer stopped three shots, all in the second half.