SANTA ANA PUEBLO — A pair of first-year coaches will guide their teams in the girls Class 1A-3A state championship game when Matt Westerlund and Sandia Prep square off against Anthony Cassaro and St. Michael’s at the Soccer Complex Friday at 12:30 p.m.
The Sundevils own a pair of 1-0 victories — including one in overtime — against the Lady Horsemen during the regular season. Sandia Prep moved to 3-0 against another District 2-1A/3A rival in semifinal action on Thursday, shaking off a slow start to best Santa Fe Prep 2-0, while St. Michael’s earned a thrilling 2-1 victory over Socorro in the other half of the bracket.
“We just have to be a much calmer, possession based team than we were (Thursday),” Westerland said.
Added Cassaro: “It’s gonna be a great game. We’ve played two tough games against them. I’m looking forward to the third one.”
NO. 1 SANDIA PREP 2, NO. 5 SANTA FE PREP 0: Maria Merritt and Kiran Hill scored goals as the Sundevils pulled away from the Blue Griffins in the second half.
After a scoreless opening stanza in which neither team appeared to have a clear advantage, Sandia Prep (15-4-2) made a key adjustment that allowed it to break the game open.
“The difference was us adding an additional midfielder in the center of the field. In the first half, Santa Fe Prep came out and absolutely dominated us in the midfield,” Westerlund said. “They had a lot of physical presence in that area. … I think adding that extra player allowed us to keep the ball a little bit more and establish the tempo that we wanted.”
Merritt got the Sundevils on the board in the 49th minute, taking a nice cross from Hill and putting the ball in the right corner of the net. Hill, an eighth-grader, gave Sandia Prep some breathing room in the final 10 minutes with a goal on a pass from Lauryn Biddle.
“I think that happens to our team sometimes,” Merrit said. “We kind of just get in a funk the first half and then we break through the second half just by encouraging each other and reminding each other why we’re here at state.”
Santa Fe Prep (12-6-1), with much less depth on its bench, tired down the stretch and was unable to convert its few scoring opportunities. The Sundevils outshot the Blue Griffins 13-4.
No. 1 Sandia Prep 2, No. 5 Santa Fe Prep 0
Santa Fe Prep 0 0—0
Sandia Prep 0 2—2
Scoring: SP, 49th, Maria Merritt (Kiran Hill); SP, 73rd, Hill (Lauryn Biddle). Shots: SFP 4, SP 13. Corner Kicks: SFP 1, SP 3. Saves: SFP 16, SP 4. Rec.: SP 15-4-2; SFP 12-6-1
NO. 6 ST. MICHAEL’S 2, NO. 2 SOCORRO 1: The Lady Horsemen didn’t mind throwing around the word “luck” after their victory over the Warriors.
Daisy Smith curved a corner kick into the Socorro net in the 75th minute to give St. Michael’s a dramatic triumph. While winning was always part of the plan, the method used was unexpected.
“I was just in the corner and we had the option of the short (pass), but she had a man on her,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘I think I’ll just kick it long.’ I sort of wanted it in the box so someone would at least have a chance, so when it went in I was pretty surprised.
“Honestly, I think it was sort of lucky.”
Cassaro admitted he had not been thrilled with Smith’s previous two corner kicks, but the St. Michael’s junior more than made up for it when it counted most.
“I think it was a pretty even contest,” Cassaro said. “Sometimes in these games you need a little bit of luck on your side. Luckily today we were that side.”
No. 6 St. Michael’s 2, No. 2 Socorro 1
St. Michael’s 0 2—2
Socorro 0 1—1
Scoring: SM, Olivia Farrar; S, Bryanda Leon (Lola Apodaca); SM, Daisy Smith. Shots: SM 6, S 4. Corner Kicks: SM 6, S 5. Saves: SM 5, S 4. Rec.: SM 16-6-1; S 20-2.
(Click here for the girls 1A-3A bracket.)