Hilltoppers blast Tigers to advance in 4A tourney

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — A quick scoring barrage late in the first half that carried over into the second half lifted the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls soccer team to the semifinals of the 2009 state playoffs.

Los Alamos scored five goals in a 14-minute span Thursday to thump the Taos Tigers 7-0 Thursday at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.

Hilltopper forward Amelia Weaver picked up four goals, three of them coming only a minute apart to start the second half, as the Hilltoppers rolled over a familiar opponent.

Los Alamos moves on to play in tonight’s semifinal round against the St. Pius X Sartans for the right to meet either top-seeded Albuquerque Academy or fourth-seeded Volcano Vista in Saturday’s championship contest.

Tonight’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. also at the APS complex.

“I think we can be the state champs,” Weaver said after her four-goal performance. “We came to play and we came to play our game. We’ll be alright. The win (Thursday) doesn’t secure anything. We have to be ready (tonight).”

Thursday’s game was, for Weaver and the rest of the Hilltoppers, their first game in nearly two weeks. By virtue of their No. 2 seed in the playoffs, they had a bye past the first round, which was played last weekend.

Los Alamos had to overcome some nerves and get acclimated to the small, lightning-quick turf fields at the APS Soccer Fields, something that took it about 20 minutes of the opening half.

In the meantime, Taos (15-6) came out on the attack, something it rarely does against Los Alamos, preferring to hunker down on defense and pray for a breakaway goal. Led by its leading scorer, eighth-grader Zoie Hensley, Taos initially moved the ball well into Hilltopper territory.

The Tigers wouldn’t get a shot off the entire first half however, and not in the second half until Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek, well satisfied with a 6-goal advantage, started clearing off his bench.

Los Alamos (17-3), led by Weaver and Shaina Riciputi, tortured the middle of the Taos back line throughout Thursday’s contest.

“They couldn’t match up with our speed,” Kubicek said. “They tried to play an offside trap, but it didn’t work for them. But (the Tigers) held their own. I expected the game to be like that.”

Riciputi has had the golden touch at virtually every position she’s played this season. She played most of the early part of the season in the Hilltopper defensive third, but when she was moved up to the offensive third, she immediately became the team’s top scoring threat.

What does she like better?

“It doesn’t matter as long as I can help the team out,” she said.

Riciputi finished with a goal and two assists. Her goal came at the 38-minute mark, two minutes after Weaver’s first goal, with Weaver and Amy Neal earning assists on the play.

Following shortly after Weaver’s 36th-minute goal, that coming courtesy of a textbook centering pass from Saya Shimada, Los Alamos was awarded a corner kick. Neal’s kick landed almost dead-center in front of the Taos goal, where Weaver, after a little scuffle, dropped a short pass to Riciputi who put it away right past Taos goalkeeper Melinda Young.

Riciputi said her team wasn’t going to take a lot of time to celebrate Thursday’s victory.

“We’re already moving past this game,” she said less than 10 minutes following the final whistle. “It’s going to be a hard game. We just squeaked by Pius the first time we played them. Everybody’s already getting pumped up for (today’s) game.”

Weaver’s second half goals came in minutes 48, 49 and 50, when she simply blew through the gaping holes in the interior of Taos’ defense and received passes right at her feet.

Shimada finished with a goal and an assist Thursday, while Keanna Cohen scored the capper with just a few seconds remaining in regulation.

The Hilltoppers beat the Sartans Sept. 19, in a 1-0 shootout.