LA soccer team falls in final minutes in state semifinals

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By Mike Cote


ALBUQUERQUE – One day after earning a big knockout in the quarterfinals, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team went toe-to-toe with one of the heavyweights in Class 4A.

Los Alamos took on the Roswell Coyotes in the semifinal round of the 4A playoffs and held the Coyotes scoreless until the bitter end Friday at the Albuquerque Public Schools Soccer Complex.

Unfortunately, Roswell’s Fernando Sanchez, one of the big offensive guns in 4A this season, got loose inside the Hilltopper penalty box. Sanchez worked a give-and-go with Joseph Contreras and blasted a shot into the top right corner of the Hilltopper goal.

That goal, coming in the 78th minute of play, would be the only tally for either team. Roswell would advance to Saturday’s championship with a 1-0 victory.

It was also the only goal allowed in the postseason by Los Alamos goalkeeper Chris Parker. Parker, who made a couple of big stops one day before against Farmington, had a couple of acrobatic saves against Roswell, one of the most prolific offensive teams in 2013.

Parker, who may get 2013 All-State consideration with his performance in these playoffs, finished with five saves for the Hilltoppers Friday.

It was a tough way to lose for the Hilltoppers, falling on a goal very late in regulation, but Los Alamos head coach Evan Gartz said his team surprised plenty of people this season in getting to the 4A semifinals, including himself.

“At the beginning of the year, I never thought we could’ve gotten this far,” Gartz said afterward. “We just kept progressing, kept progressing. The guys just worked in practice to get us here. We had a lot of unity. Those little intangibles helped us get to the semifinals.”

But, like against Farmington, Los Alamos again couldn’t generate much offense. Los Alamos spent most of Friday’s contest working the ball down the sidelines trying to get it to its leading scorer Collin Stone, but Stone was blanketed throughout the contest and rarely got the ball in space.

Los Alamos got off only three shots in the game.

The Hilltoppers knew Stone would get some extra attention from the Coyote defense. On the opposite side, the Hilltoppers kept a close watch on Sanchez.

“He’s our playmaker,” Roswell head coach James Vernon said. “We told him halftime, they’re keying on you. You’ve got to play 1-touch, 2-touch with the forward and get open and make your run. You’ll get the ball back, and that’s what happened.”

Roswell was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and made a pretty good case for a No. 1 seed throughout the year. Early in 2013, the Coyotes waxed the Hilltopper 6-2 during the Louie Cernicek Invitational.

It was an uphill climb for the Hilltoppers most of the season, having lost the vast majority of their starters going into 2013, but they pulled it together late in the year, including scoring a big upset win over the Capital Jaguars and nearly pulling out a second consecutive district title.

The Jaguars themselves also advanced to the semifinal, but fell to the Albuquerque Academy Chargers 3-2. The Chargers were the No. 1 seed in the 4A tournament this year.

Friday’s game was the finale in the careers of Los Alamos seniors Stone, Tyler Mullen, Thomas Routiaux, Cameron Guy, Joe Roback, James Aslam, William Steinkamp, Skyler Veenis, Parker Gillespie, Mauricio Brown-Salazar and Brandon Hodges.

Los Alamos finishes its season with a record of 12-11.

The season ended with Los Alamos shutting out both Centennial and Farmington in the playoffs, then holding Roswell scoreless for all but the final 2-plus minutes of regulation.

“When the final whistle blew, I thought, ‘hey, we’re one of the top four teams,’” Gartz said. “It’s disappointing we didn’t get further, but there’s 21 teams in 4A that are sitting at home right now, and we’re still playing. I’m really proud of that.”