LA secures state tournament slot

-A A +A
By Mike Cote

It was a position the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity soccer team was all too familiar with.

The Hilltoppers got on the board first early in the first half and were playing solid defense to limit their opponent's chances.

That was the first meeting between Los Alamos and Capital. And that go-round didn't end well for Los Alamos.

But the second time was the charm for the Hilltoppers Saturday, as a converted penalty kick by Mike Jones in the 47th minute put the 'Toppers up to stay. The 'Toppers added an insurance goal by Noah Sandoval in the 51st minute to win 3-1 at Sullivan Field.

Los Alamos got not only a measure of revenge against the Jaguars, who won the Oct. 9 game at Jaguar Field 3-2 in a shootout, but also secured a bid for the Class AAAA World Cup round, which starts Thursday.

And now it's Capital's Jaguars who are on the bubble and at the mercy of the AAAA selection committee.

"We played great (Saturday)," Hilltopper co-head coach Evan Gartz said following the victory. "We had possession of the ball all game, and that was the difference."

Jones, a senior fullback, had outstanding dribble penetration deep into the Capital penalty box, leaping over a diving defender before tapping a shot past Capital's standout goalkeeper Carlos Torres.

But the apparent goal was waved off because of a foul call in the box just moments earlier, and Jones was awarded the penalty kick, on which he went to the top left corner out of Torres' reach.

"I was upset when I noticed that he blew the whistle," Jones said of the foul call. "Then I got scared that I was going to miss the penalty kick, but I made it."

Sandoval scored his goal off a direct kick from about 22 yards out, which replacement goalkeeper Alejandro Cordova had a bead on, but the ball slipped through his legs into the net.

Capital kept its hope alive with a goal off a corner kick at the 54-minute mark. Janecky made the initial stop of the well-placed kick, but it slipped out of his hands and a scrum ensued. Alejandro Perez of Capital finally tapped the ball in to put the Jaguars back within two goals.

But Capital would get only a limited number of chances for the balance of the game, and those remaining chances were swallowed up by Janecky and the Hilltopper defense.

Los Alamos picked up its first goal in the 11th minute, when midfielder Aaron Robinson ran down a through-ball near the edge of the 18-yard box and sent a cross straight toward the head of Ryota Shimada, who thumped it straight past a diving Carlos Torres to make the score 1-0.

Los Alamos' offense kept Capital's defense on its toes throughout the first half, firing off 15 shots, most of them quality. Torres had to make eight stops in the half just to keep the game within a goal.

Capital (10-7 overall, 4-4 in 2AAAA) got off eight shots in the opening half, only two on goal. One of them was a close call, however, with Jaguar midfielder Pablo Hinojos firing a line drive through traffic that 'Topper goalkeeper Grant Janecky was screened from by the bodies in the way. But Janecky recovered and picked the ball off before it snuck into the left post.

Los Alamos (12-8 overall, 6-2 in 2AAAA) had numerous close calls, its closest coming in the 21st minute when Jason Reagor took a shot from 35 yards out which Torres just tipped over the crossbar.

The Hilltoppers will learn who they will play in the World Cup round Monday, when the New Mexico Activities Association makes it selections public.

The selection committee was scheduled to meet Saturday to fill the World Cup bracket and pick the AAAA at-large teams.

"We'll take the weekend off, and we'll get some good days in," Gartz said of his team's preparation for its state tournament appearance. "On Monday and Tuesday we'll have hard practices, get ready for the team we're playing."