Tiger boys win heated finale at Valencia; seeding meeting Sunday


Late-season soccer matches can have all kinds of extra pressure as teams play for playoff seeding or even for their playoff lives.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: A Leaping battle for the ball takes place between Ezequil Castillo of Los Lunas, left, and Valencia’s Andrew Snider during Tuesday’s 1-0 Tiger win on the Jags’ pitch. Both teams will be waiting for the Class 4A playoff announcement on Sunday.

When the Los Lunas boys faced Valencia on the Jags’ home pitch, the Tigers had already secured the District 6-4A championship and were fighting for some respect from the state seeding committee.

For Valencia, who had secured third place in district behind Miyamura, a win or a loss might be the difference in a post-season invite.

A single goal separated the two teams as Los Lunas took a 1-0 win over their county rivals.

Los Lunas (14-5, 9-1 in 6-4A) was set to finish its season at Bosque Prep on Friday in a match that kicked off after the News-Bulletin press time. Valencia (10-8, 5-5) is done with its regular season and is awaiting a call to the playoffs.

The win over Valencia was crucial to the Tigers’ hopes of a top-four seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs, which take place next weekend at the sites of the No. 5 through No. 8 seeds.

The top four seeds get a bye straight to the quarterfinals, which start at the Albuquerque Public Schools soccer complex on Nov. 8. The Class 4A state championship match will be played at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 10.

“There is a lot of meaning,” said Los Lunas coach Eliseo Aguirre of the win. “We wanted to be 9-1, and we knew they would be coming out fighting. We are trying to get a higher seed, so we needed to win.”

He outlined the team’s playoff expectations prior to the Bosque match on Friday, noting that it was a must-win if the team were to hope for a top-four slot.

“I think we have an outside chance at a four-seed,” said Aguirre. “But I am not holding my breath. I just want to have the opportunity to have a four-seed.”

The tight, very physical match at Valencia was marred by three yellow cards and an encounter after the match that could have led to blows being thrown, if not for the quick action of the administration officials of both schools.

“It was pretty intense throughout. We got an early second-half goal and played defense the rest of the way,” said Aguirre.

Valencia’s Rodney Bernard got a yellow card for a hard tackle in the 50th minute. Then came two yellow cards in the 55th minute on a possession play near midfield in front of the stands on the west side.

Alan Ramirez of Valencia battled Los Lunas’ Valentin Corea, with both players being very physical. The ball went off Ramirez, out of bounds, and Corea put a hard shoulder into the Valencia player’s back after the ball was dead.

Ramirez spun with fists raised, but game officials separated the two and issued a yellow card to each player.

“Actually, it is just a simple game that they were losing and they needed to put pressure on us,” said Aguirre of the play that got tempers flared. “It was a 50-50 ball and could have gone either way.”

He noted that there was a hard foul on the play before the ball went out of bounds.

“We just have to be sure to control ourselves and I am glad that it did not lead to anything during the game,” said Aguirre.

The lone goal came on a corner kick just 3:10 into the second half.

“It started with the corner kick,” said Aguirre, describing the winning goal. “We put four or five people up on top of the 18 (penalty box) and have them crash in. Gustavo (Muñoz)did a nice job of putting the ball where it needed to be put.”

Said Aguilera took Muñoz’s set and placed it in the back corner of the net past Valencia goaltender Jose Gonzalez. The 1-0 lead held the rest of the way.

After the contest concluded and Los Lunas sang the school song to the visiting crowd, Corea ripped off his shirt and charged at the Valencia players. A quick reaction from his teammates, holding him back, and an immediate response from both school’s officials kept the teams separated and prevented further incident.

No red cards were issued for the after-match altercation, and no further disciplinary action has been indicated by either school.

“It is a heated rivalry and no one wants to lose that game,” said Aguirre. “Sometimes things flare up. Everything was under control within a matter of seconds.”

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