Lady Jaguars overcome late two-goal deficit to beat Belen, 4-3

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One team's miracle comeback was the other team's nightmare on Saturday.

In the latest turn to a District 6-4A girls soccer season filled with surprises, the Valencia Lady Jaguars scored three times in the last 16 minutes Saturday to beat county and district rival Belen, 4-3. The decision may not have had an impact on the district standings, but it was another milestone for the Jags — and perhaps a wake-up call to Belen about how important it is to finish.

"Finally, we did it," said VHS coach Kimberly Chavez-Burkhard, whose team had never beaten Belen in district play. It was only the Jaguars' second win in nine overall meetings with Belen.

Both teams were set to end the regular season with late matches Tuesday, with Valencia at Los Lunas and Belen at Grants. They'll await the results of Sunday's state seeding committee meeting, and both are expected to be selected for the 12-team field — just as they were last season.

Valencia improved to 11-6 overall and 6-3 in District 6-4A with the win, while Belen fell to 10-8 and 7-2. Miyamura, which beat Los Lunas 5-0 on Saturday, won its third straight 6-4A title, while Belen was in second place and Valencia in third as of Tuesday.

Belen controlled much of Saturday's match, and seemed to be generating more chances for the first three-quarters of the contest. But their offense started taking quick shots, and didn't have the midfielders moving in behind them as much, and the Valencia offense was getting more and more runs at the Eagle goal.

"Our players played hard, but we lost momentum the last 20 minutes," said Lady Eagle coach Wilfred Carrasco. "Our defensive midfielders and defenders allowed Valencia to get balls behind our defenders. Our attacking mid and forwards had opportunities to put more points on the board, but it was not meant to be."

For most of the match, it seemed Belen's defense had a bend-but-don't-break flexibility, and the Eagles were going to get scoring chances. They led 2-0 at the half on a pair of Alexis Begay goals, both off of free kicks by BHS senior Kaitlyn D'Arcangeli.

Jaguar defender Miranda Kittredge was done for the day after re-injuring her right knee. That caused Chavez-Burkhard to move Vanessa Sanchez from a forward to a defender spot, but the Jags were able to stay in the match. Jaguar senior Brittany Piro scored on a nice free kick from about 35 yards away to make it 2-1 with 10 minutes gone in the second half.

"Vanessa is a much-improved player this year," said the coach. "I can move her from defense to the wing, and that really helps."

Belen seemed to build a commanding lead in the 58th minute. Eagle goalkeeper Lupita Sabinas kicked the ball ahead, and it bounced to Begay, who scored against Jag goalkeeper Haley Baca to make it 3-1.

That's apparently when the bells went off in the minds of the Jaguar players, and they went to work. With 16 minutes left in the match, Norene Archuleta chipped the ball ahead to Kaitlynn Craig, who got around a charging Sabinas and walked the ball into the goal to make it 3-2.

"We knew Craig and Archuleta are capable of getting balls past defenders and take on goalkeepers one-on-one," said Carrasco. "They saw our defenders begin to play flat and they exposed us. We just got on our heels."

Five minutes later, Valencia's Jazirae Chavira shouldered around Belen senior defender Brandy Ortega and fired toward the goal. It was knocked down, but Archuleta ended up with the ball and only the net in front of her, and she scored to tie it 3-3.

Baca stopped a couple of hard shots by the Eagles to keep the score tied. The teams seemed headed for another overtime match (Belen beat the Jags 2-1 in double overtime on Oct. 2) until Valencia came up with its most impressive goal of the day.

With only five minutes left in regulation, Valencia pinned the ball in the corner and forced a corner kick. Piro took it, and launched a textbook arch toward the six-yard line, where Chavira headed it into the goal, in stride.

The coach said Chavira's heroics were even more impressive because the senior wasn't feeling well Saturday.

"We'd been playing well all game, but we started to connect more in that last 20 minutes," said Chavez-Burkhard. "It helped that our defenders went toward the ball more, and it helped that we started clicking, and we didn't give up. Even after the first two goals, it was like, 'OK, They scored. Now, it's our turn.'"

Belen got a few attacks going in the final minutes, but not a major scoring chance.

Chavez-Burkhard said the large crowd that showed for the intense, physical match was a definite benefit to her team.

Carrasco praised the team that had finally beaten his Eagles for the first time in six district meetings.

"Valencia played a great match," said Carrasco. "Coach Kimberly should be proud of her girls."


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