SANTA ANA PUEBLO – There are few forwards in the state, if any, as dangerous as Albuquerque Academy junior Eliza Mariner.
So when she went out of the Class 5A girls championship soccer game Saturday with a left ankle sprain early in the first half, it could have been trouble for the Chargers.
Except it wasn’t.
Enter junior holding midfielder Gabby Sanchez, who had not scored all season.
Her worm-killing shot from 25 yards in the 50th minute was all Academy needed for a repeat championship, 1-0 over Los Alamos.
“I just took a touch and saw my space. I decided, ‘Why not?’ It’s the last game. Why not just go for it? So I took a shot,” Sanchez said. “I couldn’t really believe it went in. It was amazing.”
It was the third win for Academy (19-4) over Los Alamos (17-6-1), earlier beating the Hilltoppers by 3-1 and 3-0 scores in District 2-5A play.
“I think Los Alamos had a really good game plan coming in,” Chargers coach Peter Glidden said. “They played more defensive. They didn’t do the offside trap. They kept everything in front of them, so that made it difficult to score. And they’re just playing really good soccer right now. It was a great soccer match, and I think our girls wanted it just a little bit more at the end.”
Still, the Hilltoppers were challenging to score even in the final minute, although their best opportunity came midway through the second half when a cross came along the top of the goaltender’s area. But Anna Rose Matuszak just missed getting there in time to turn it into a shot.
“They got a nice goal,” Los Alamos coach Ann Cernicek said. “We talked at halftime and we said this game would be decided by one goal. And it was. … We fought to the very end, having a couple of last-minute things, opportunities. … Speaks to how this team has fought all season long.”
Missing Mariner after she scored four goals in the first two games – a teammate actually gave her a piggyback ride out to pick up her medal – the Chargers had to find a new scoring tact.
“We talked about it at halftime,” Glidden said. “We’re a whole team and we have to be creative in terms of the way we scored. We know we have great midfielders and wingers and other forwards, as well. In the second half, we came out and played really good possession soccer. Gabby had a little time in the center, got her head up and scored just a beautiful goal. I think it motivated our team that we had to keep more possession and find a way to score.”
Sanchez said that before the game, she had a feeling something special was going to happen.
“It took a weird bounce and it was just in my favor I guess,” she said. “I told all my teammates, I’m going to get it in the championship game. And I guess there was nothing else to lose, so I took a shot.”
No. 1 ABQ ACADEMY 1, No. 6 LOS ALAMOS 0
Los Alamos 0 0 – 0
Academy 0 1 – 1
Scoring: AA, 50th, Gabby Sanchez (unassisted). Shots on goal: LA 1; AA 7. Corner kicks: LA 2; AA 4. Saves: LA, Ashley Atenco 6; AA, Mikayla Montoya 1. Caution: AA, Anna Carpio, 75th. Records: AA 19-4; LA 17-6-1.