LA's late goal sinks Bears, 1-0

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By Mike Cote

Coming off back-to-back games where the effort wasn’t what they needed it to be, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers didn’t get off to an auspicious start Thursday.
But playing against the La Cueva Bears, the Hilltopper girls soccer team made up for it with a big second half.
Los Alamos couldn’t get on the same page offensively and needed some big plays on the defensive side during the first half of Thursday’s game to hang with the Bears. In the second half, however, the Hilltoppers finally got their powerful offense rolling, culminating in one of the team’s best individual efforts of the season, leading to the game winner.
With the game scoreless in the 76th minute, La Cueva’s near-miss shot on a corner kick chance rolled out to the right side of the field where Catie McDonald tracked it down. McDonald dribbled the length of the field down the right hash mark, deftly split two well-positioned La Cueva defenders converging on her and smashed a shot toward the La Cueva post.
La Cueva goalkeeper Sam Johnson blocked McDonald’s initial shot but didn’t have time to grab the ball out of the air. Instead, the ball bounced straight to Hilltopper Allison Rooney who had simply to send it back into the open net.
That play gave the Hilltoppers a big 1-0 victory over the Class 5A Bears and, potentially, a much-needed boost to a team that had been dragging going into the contest.
McDonald, a freshman who was doubled-up with one of the most prolific goal-scorers in Los Alamos history, Amy Neal, at the start of this season, has played up to and beyond her expectations going in.
“I love playing this sport,” McDonald said following the victory. “It’s such a great feeling being able to score, playing with my sister (Meghan McDonald). It’s been an up-and-down season with losses and wins, but in the long run we’re a stronger team and it shows in the way we play.”
So far in 2012, McDonald has tallied 11 goals and 12 assists (34 total points), second on the team in both stats behind Neal and one of the top totals by any freshman in the state.
But the way La Cueva played in the first half, it looked like Los Alamos might not get the chance for late-game heroics.
The Bears (9-3) dominated the final 20 minutes of the opening half, getting off six shots, four of them on goal and the other two just off goal.
La Cueva made two deep pushes late in the half, with forward Shayla Malecki clubbing a shot from the top of the box that was curving away from Hilltopper goalkeeper Bryce Theesfeld. Theesfeld, who was credited with 7 saves overall, was able to track the ball going to her right to make the stop.
The Bears, who tried the Hilltopper defensive middle several teams with no success, thanks in no small part to fullback Stephanie Blair, moved the ball effectively from the wing. Los Alamos’ Katelyn Leslie and Cassidy Reeves, however, were able to cut off many of those attacks.
 “We were lucky we survived the first half,” Los Alamos head coach Jiri Kubicek said. “They had a few chances, but not very dangerous (chances). In the second half we made the adjustments. We talked to them at halftime. We were a totally different team.”
Los Alamos got off six shots in the second half after producing only one in the opening half. McDonald had a line drive shot on goal just three minutes into the second half, one of the few times up to that point Johnson had to touch the ball.
Prior to Thursday, the Hilltoppers (11-2) easily topped overmatched Santa Fe but couldn’t muster much enthusiasm in doing so, then struggled for most of their road game Tuesday in a 2-1 shootout loss to Volcano Vista, getting little offense going.
The Hilltoppers, however, are still the top-ranked team in 4A and ranked among the top 35 in the country, that according to MaxPreps.com. Their only losses this year came on subpar efforts against St. Pius X and Volcano Vista.
“I think part of it, the Volcano Vista game motivated us to come out and win this game,” McDonald said, noting that La Cueva actually nipped St. Pius 1-0 earlier this week.