SANTA ANA PUEBLO — According to coach Eric Chavez, the Los Lunas boys soccer team was not an underdog.
The fourth-seeded Tigers didn’t play like one either, as they upset No. 1 Albuquerque Academy 2-1 in a Class 4A semifinal at the soccer complex on Thursday.
“No, we weren’t,” Chavez said. “Experience is experience. We did the same thing last year, we beat the No. 1 seed (St. Pius). So we knew we could play with anybody. It’s not that we’re cocky. We just know that we’re good.”
Los Lunas will vie for a blue trophy at 10:30 a.m. Friday against No. 2 Los Alamos, which needed to go to penalty kicks to edge third-seeded St. Pius in Thursday’s other semifinal. The Tigers will enter the championship game with a similar level of confidence based on a 2-1 triumph over the Hilltoppers at a tournament hosted by Los Alamos on Aug. 31.
Hilltoppers coach Ron Blue wasn’t surprised to the learn of the Tigers’ success. “I knew the top four teams in the state were playing each other, and it could go either way,” he said. “It wasn’t a complete surprise, but of course you expect Academy to do it. But Los Lunas is a really, really good team — well coached, bringing back a lot of veteran players.”
It will be the first time neither Academy nor St. Pius will be playing in a boys state final since 2012.
No. 4 LOS LUNAS 2, No. 1 ACADEMY 1: Guillermo Lobato scored the winning goal late in the second half as the Tigers rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit.
The ball ended up in Lobato’s possession just outside the goalie box following a corner kick by Los Lunas, and the senior midfielder put the ball in the back of the net. It was far from a sure thing, however.
“Nah, not really,” Lobato said when asked if he knew the shot was true. “At first I thought it was gonna hit the post, but I saw it go in. It was a really good moment.”
That might be a bit of an understatement.
“I saw the whole shot. He got control right around the six-yard box — a little bit further out,” Chavez said. “I didn’t think it was gonna go. I didn’t think he had the angle, but I saw it hit the back of the net. It’s just pure joy and excitement, man. I’m just happy for the kids.”
A year ago, the Tigers shocked No. 1 St. Pius in the quarterfinals only to be blown out 7-0 by Los Alamos in the semifinals. This time, Los Lunas kept its cool after Academy’s Trevor Dean lofted a beautiful shot over the keeper’s head for a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
“(Last year) we fell apart and some guys got carried away with stuff they said underneath their breath and the ref heard it. It took us out of the game, pretty much,” Chavez said. “This year we talked about when it was getting heated right before the first half ended. We said, ‘Remember last year, we’ve been in this place before.’ We did ourselves in last year with our attitudes. We were able to keep those in check.”
The Tigers’ Jordan Arballo tied the game in the second half to set up Lobato’s heroics.
“We don’t give up. We always believe in our team,” Lobato said.
NO. 4 LOS LUNAS 2, NO. 1 ACADEMY 1
Los Lunas 0 2—2
Academy 1 1—1
Scoring: A, Trevor Dean; L, Jordan Arballo; L, Guillermo Lobato. Shots: A 6, L 7. Saves: A 0, L 2. Corner Kicks: A 3, L 3. Rec.: L 18-3-1; A 18-4.
No. 2 LOS ALAMOS 1, No. 3 ST. PIUS 1 (Los Alamos 4-3 in shootout): Hilltoppers goalie Jaxson Martines outdueled St. Pius counterpart Coleman Speer as Los Alamos prevailed in a tense showdown.
Aiden Semelsberger scored in the 15th minute to put the Hilltoppers (17-5) ahead 1-0, but St. Pius tied it when Marcus Garcia converted a breakaway opportunity at the 25th minute. From there the rivals battled through a second half and a pair of overtime periods before heading to penalty kicks.
Martines stymied two Sartans shots, including the clincher attempt from Ethan Johnson, while moments earlier, the Hilltoppers’ Syler Sylvester nailed what turned out to be the deciding goal.
“I’ve done it 100 times before,” Sylvester said. “I knew where I was going. I knew that if I made it, our keeper would make the save and he would do his best. I tried to place it as best i could and do my job.”
NO. 2 LOS ALAMOS 1, NO. 3 ST. PIUS 1
Los Alamos won 4-3 on penalty kicks
St. Pius 1 0 0 0—1
Los Alamos 1 0 0 0—1
Scoring: LA, 16th, Aiden Semelsberger (Filippo Delzanno); SPX, 24th, Marcus Garcia. Shots: SPX 11, LA 11. Saves: SPX 6, LA 9. Corner Kicks: SPX 5, LA 5. Rec.: LA 17-5; SPX 12-6-2