Tiger boys win shootout thriller to advance to quarterfinals

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In its 30-plus years of existence, the Los Lunas High boys soccer program has had some unique moments.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas sophomore Alejandro Garcia, right, tries to outleap Santa Teresa gaoalkeeper Alan Chavira, left, in Friday’s thrilling home playoff shootout win for LLHS. The Tigers take on Los Alamos in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at the APS Soccer Complex.

However, it will be tough to top the energy of last Friday’s playoff win.

In front of hundreds of fans, the Tigers blew a lead twice before winning their-first round Class 4A home playoff match over Santa Teresa in a shootout, 3-2. When a Santa Teresa player launched his team’s final shootout kick high and over the goal, the Tigers had won, and fans rushed onto Volunteer Field to celebrate with the team.

The win puts No. 6 seed Los Lunas (15-6) in a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal Thursday against No. 3 Los Alamos at the APS Soccer Complex.

“It was really cool to see all the people who came to support us,” said Eliseo Aguirre, the Tigers’ 14th-year coach. “It made me think our team is really up-and-coming among LLHS programs. I thought we dominated the match, especially the second half.”

Indeed, the Tigers kept the ball in the Desert Warriors’ end of the field, especially in the second half. Los Lunas went up 1-0 in the 24th minute on a spectacular goal by Alejandro Garcia.

The sophomore, who has 38 goals this season, took a pass from Jesus Villa and somehow poked it over the head of Santa Teresa goalkeeper Alan Chavira.

Garcia had a special dance worked up for the occasion. However, it was the No. 11 seed Desert Warriors who danced their way back into the match — more than once.

A player was taken down near the Tiger goal in the 39th minute, and STHS converted the penalty kick. In the 50th minute, Garcia scored the other goal of regulation — a header off a well-placed free kick, taken by Gustavo Muñoz just outside the penalty box.

Garcia was closely defended on the play, but his height helped him launch a solid header.

Santa Teresa tied the match 2-2 in the 64th minute. A free kick from the left side headed it high in the air near the 18-yard line and over the head of Tiger goalkeeper Dylan Romero for the goal.

There weren’t many serious chances the rest of the way for either team. When the two teams were still tied after 80 regulation minutes and two exhausting 10-minute overtime sessions, the shootout began in very limited daylight.

Santa Teresa’s first kick got by Romero, but Muñoz, the first Tiger of the shootout, guessed wrong, and Chavira stopped the shot.

Romero then leaped in the right direction to stop the next two Desert Warrior shots, but the fourth one went. Meanwhile, Said Aguilera, Valentin Corea and Mario E. Garcia scored on successive shots, giving Los Lunas a 3-2 lead.

The last Desert Warrior kicker launched his shot over the crossbar, and the Tiger players and fans celebrated as the daylight faded. Aguirre said he believes this will be the team’s first trip as far as the quarterfinals since its 1983 state title run.

“In the first half, yeah, we scored, but we were playing scared,” said Aguirre. “We weren’t going for the 50-50 balls, but we improved.”

Aguirre said it was a team victory, with several players elevating their game. Muñoz made some acrobatic plays in his sweeper position; Martin Saenz utilized scouting information in making several runs around a defender toward the goal, and Romero was huge as the team’s sophomore goalkeeper.

“Dylan played the ball in the air very well,” said Aguirre.

The winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal plays in the 4:30 semifinal on Friday at the APS Soccer Complex, against Chaparral or Roswell. Los Alamos (13-7) plays one of the state’s tougher pre-district schedules, and the speedy Hilltoppers are led by 13 seniors, including Ryan Maestas, who has 14 goals and eight assists.

The championship match is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The APS complex is on Albuquerque’s west side, off of Rainbow Boulevard NW, behind Tony Hillerman Middle School. The middle school is across the street from Volcano Vista High.


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