SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Heading into Thursday‘s girls Class 4A semifinals, Albuquerque Academy was feeling a little bit overlooked — at least as much a three-time defending state champion can feel such an emotion.
The third-seeded Chargers put themselves on track for a fourth consecutive blue trophy, rallying for a 3-2 victory against No. 2 Hope Christian at the soccer complex. The win evens the season series at 2-2 with the Huskies, but clearly, not all games are carry the same weight.
“No one’s been saying we could go back and win it again,” Academy coach Peter Glidden said. “It’s been talk about Hope, talk about Pius — and they’re great teams, but the championship comes through us.”
Academy will face those top-seeded Sartans Friday at 3 p.m. on Field 7. St. Pius advanced to the final with a 2-1 triumph over a scrappy No. 4 Aztec squad. The Chargers edged the Sartans 2-1 in double overtime at Academy in their only previous meeting on Sept. 21.
“We were a bit fortunate to get that first win against them for our homecoming at our place,” Glidden said. “Two good teams, two rivals. Can’t ask for a more amazing state tournament final.”
Either the Chargers or Sartans have been in a state final every year since 1998, the first season the NMAA separated soccer into large-school and smaller-school divisions.
NO. 3 ACADEMY 3, NO. 2 HOPE CHRISTIAN 2: Down 2-1 in the second half, Chargers freshman forward Anna Babinski found herself on a breakaway, with a golden opportunity to tie the game for her team.
The ensuing shot bounced off the post, however, leading Babinski to shake her head in disappointment. Fortunately for Academy, it was only the beginning a second-half run in which Babinski played an integral role.
In the 56th minute, Academy senior Audrey Colter capped off a beautiful set piece with a goal (assisted by Babinski) to tie the score at 2. Shortly thereafter, Babinski again got past the Huskies back line. This time, she eluded the Hope keeper and punched the ball into the net, providing the game’s final margin in the 61st minute.
“Chasing the ball down, all I can think was, ‘I’ve got to score for my team. They try so hard for me.’ I just want to win for them,” Babinski said.
“For a freshman to score a goal like that is big time,” added Glidden. “It’s awesome.”
Academy started quickly, as Willa Wiese put the Chargers up 1-0 with a goal in the second minute. The rest of the half belonged to Hope’s Addison Anaya, who scored at the 9th and 18th minute to give the Huskies a 2-1 halftime lead.
Still, there was plenty of confidence on the Academy sideline, and it proved to be well-founded.
“I think there was that belief in the second half. We’ve been down to Hope and we’ve come back,” Glidden said. “They were so composed, they worked so hard. I’m just so proud of this group.”
NO. 3 ACADEMY 3, NO. 2 HOPE 3
Academy 1 2—3
Hope 2 0—2
Scoring: A, 2nd, Willa Wiese (Maya Land); H, 9th, Addison Anaya (Ashlyn Salas); H, 18th, Anaya (Hannah Gutierrez); A, 56th, Audrey Colter (Anna Babinski); A, 61st, Babsinski (Jaclyn Lehrman). Shots: A 10, H 9. Saves: A 6, H 6. Corner Kicks: A 2, H 1. Rec.: A 17-5, H 18-4.
NO. 1 ST. PIUS 2, NO. 4 AZTEC 1: While the decisive goal ultimately came before halftime, the Tigers made the Sartans work for every single minute of their semifinal victory.
Aztec spent the majority of the second half assaulting the St. Pius goal, but the Sartan defense held up through multiple scoring opportunities. Even in defeat, the Tigers outshot St. Pius by an 8-7 margin.
“It was wave after wave after wave, but this back line that we have and our goalkeeper, they’ve been strong for us all year,” St. Pius coach Dave Sullivan Jr. said. “We just had to lean on what’s got us here.”
While the second half featured plenty of frenetic — but scoreless — action, St. Pius’ Emma Donlin had what ultimately was the game-winning goal in the 32nd minute on an assist from Grace Romero.
“At first, we got a little shaky and then we calmed down and played our style of soccer,” Donlin said. “It ended up with a goal that was scored by the entire team with a good effort.”
St. Pius previously defeated Aztec 2-0 in a home game on Oct. 19. The rematch might’ve taken a few years off Sullivan’s life.
“We knew they weren’t just gonna fold over because we’re the one seed. Hat’s off to (Aztec). They had us on the ropes toward the end there,” Sullivan said. “I’m surprised I haven’t had a heart attack yet.”
NO. 1 ST. PIUS 2, NO. 4 AZTEC 1
Aztec 1 0—1
St. Pius 2 0—2
Scoring: S, 10th, Grace Romero (Hannah Irons); A, 15th, Ella Higgins; S, 32nd, Emma Donlin (Romero). Shots: A 8, S 7. Saves: A 4, S 9. Corner Kicks: A 2, S 3. Rec.: S 15-5; A 16-5-1.