LA, Farmington clash in quarterfinal

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By Mike Cote

The quarterfinal round of the Class 4A playoffs will feature the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team going up against a very familiar foe.
Los Alamos meets the third-seeded Farmington Scorpions Thursday morning at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex. The two teams square off at 10:45 a.m.
It will be a tough test for Los Alamos, which earned a solid 2-0 victory in the opening round of the playoffs last weekend to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal.
Farmington doesn’t have a wide array of offensive weaponry. It doesn’t have a scorer in the top 20 overall in points among Class 4A players, and its top scorer managed just 22 points during the regular season.
However, the Scorpions’ strength lies in their defense. And the Hilltoppers are well aware of it.
To that end, Los Alamos won’t be looking for the quick strikes it had last week against Centennial to open the playoffs. Instead, patience will be the key for the Hilltoppers’ game plan.
“We’re really working on possessing the ball so we can try to go at them methodically,” Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said. “It’ll be a challenge, but our boys are ready.”
The Scorpions have been among the stingiest defenses in 4A this season, allowing just 17 goals in 20 games. In the frame, Farmington junior Connor Tournquist has an impressive .803 goals-against average this season, third-best in 4A.
The Hilltoppers don’t plan on taking any chances Thursday in what they figure will be a grind-it-out, low-scoring affair.
And the Scorpions apparently aren’t taking any chances either, to the point where they refused to speak to the Los Alamos Monitor unless interview questions were submitted to rookie head coach Byron Farnsworth in writing ahead of time.
Farmington, the 2012 4A runners-up, finished the regular season with a mark of 13-6.
All of Farmington’s losses on the season came to top-shelf competitors such as Roswell, Las Cruces and Albuquerque Academy, with none of those losses being by more than one goal.
The Hilltoppers (11-10) haven’t fared well in recent years against Farmington.
They lost the 2009 championship game 3-0 to the Scorpions and have lost three of their last four meetings since then.
Los Alamos is hoping it can capitalize on the momentum it picked up late in the season. Los Alamos won four of its last five contests, including shutout wins over Santa Fe, a game it needed to have to stay in contention for a district title, and Centennial in the opening round of the playoffs.
The defense was solid against Centennial, keeping the Hawks’ main offensive weapons under control until the very end of the contest when the Hawks went into panic mode. Fullback Skyler Veenis came on strong at the end of the season and the Hilltoppers are banking on continued good showings for the remainder of their tournament run.
In goal, Chris Parker made some tough late saves to preserve the shutout win against Centennial.
“When he says he’s nervous, I say we’re doing good,” Gartz said of his goalkeeper. “He’s practiced really hard. He’s at the top of his game right now.”
Los Alamos will be keeping an eye on Nathaniel Pavlik and Jorge Chavira near its goal. Pavlik and Chavira combined for 20 goals on the season, about half the Scorpions’ total.
Interestingly, though, the two also combined for a total of just 3 assists.
The winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal will move on to face either second-seeded Roswell or 10th-seeded Artesia, which pulled off a minor 1-0 upset against seventh-seeded Santa Teresa.