Tigers score three times in last 22 minutes to beat Valencia

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If the Los Lunas High boys soccer team can continue to play as resiliently as it did Saturday, the Tigers might be able to have an outstanding postseason run.

If the Valencia Jaguars have any more blown two-goal leads and/or one-goal losses, it might be enough to nix their postseason hopes completely.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Aaron Sais of Los Lunas, left, races Valencia’s Saul Frayre to the ball in Saturday’s match. The Tigers scored three times in the last 22 minutes of Saturday’s District 6-4A match to beat the Jaguars, 3-2, and both teams are set to play 11 a.m. district matches this Saturday.

The host Tigers scored three times in the last 22 minutes of Saturday’s District 6-4A match to beat the Jaguars, 3-2, even though the Jags were shutting them out and controlling the match, in some ways.

The outcome kept Los Lunas in first place in 6-4A with a 5-0 record; the Tigers went to 10-4 overall. Valencia fell to 6-6, 2-3.

Tuesday, after News-Bulletin press time, the Tigers were set to host Belen, and Valencia to host Gallup. This Saturday, the Jaguars host Miyamura and Los Lunas plays at Grants, with both matches set for 11 a.m.

In the Valencia-Los Lunas match, Said Aguilera’s penalty kick, with three minutes left in the match, won it for the Tigers, and he also scored the tying goal with 17 minutes to play. “We played way better in the second half than we did in the first,” said Aguilera, one of seven seniors on the Tiger roster. “But overall, this was one of our best games of the year. We talked about being patient, about playing our game and playing with heart, and always playing the ball and getting good touches.”

Valencia went up 1-0 on a Gavin Sharpe penalty kick late in the first half, which featured several calls and non-calls that frustrated both the fans, and, it seemed, the Tigers, more so than the Jaguars. Tiger players received a pair of back-to-back yellow cards with about six minutes left in the half, but look more composed after halftime.

VHS led 2-0 on score by Joel Molina in the 49th minute. Diego Ramirez had a nice lead pass to Molina, who beat Tiger goalkeeper Dylan Romero one-on-one.

That’s when Los Lunas started to apply more pressure and gain momentum. About six minutes after Molina’s goal, Tiger reserve sophomore fell on his left hand and appeared to possibly be seriously injured, and the reaction to the officiating of the intense, physical match led to one fan being ejected. That sequence seemed to fire up the Tigers, who got on the board with an Alejandro Garcia score in the 58th minute, off a well-placed corner kick. Down 2-0 at that point, LLHS coach Eliseo Aguirre decided to send several players ahead for a corner kick, and it paid off.

Garcia got the ball and scored on the play to cut the Jaguar lead to 2-1. He has nearly 30 goals this season and is among tops in the state in scoring.

Aguilera tied the match about five minutes later on one of his sharpest goals of the season. He lofted the ball over VHS goalkeeper Jose Gonzalez and into the goal, with Martin Saenz assisting.

Valencia, which passed and possessed the ball Saturday as well as it had all year, seemed to get worn down on defense in the second half. A foul just inside the penalty box led to Aguilera’s winning penalty kick, and the Jags didn’t really get a serious scoring opportunity in the rest of the match.

“There aren’t always Xs and Os for everything — sometimes we have to just have to start playing,” said Aguirre. “We just have to stop worrying about what the refs are calling, or not calling, and not take anyone lightly. Valencia is a really, really good team.”

Aguirre said he implores his team not to take anyone lightly — not even Gallup, whom the Tigers face next Tuesday and whom they have already mercy-ruled by a 10-0 score.

The coach said he isn’t aware of an LLHS team having ever won a district boys soccer championship, and they are closing in on one this year.

“We have a goal,” said Aguirre of the district title. “And we have a mission.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.