SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Two days, two overtime games, two escapes for the Albuquerque High Bulldogs.
Class 5A’s top-ranked boys soccer team will have a chance on Friday to close out a rare perfect season as AHS faces upstart Hobbs at 3:30 p.m. in the state championship game on the Santa Ana Pueblo.
On a chilly day, the Bulldogs narrowly defeated last year’s state champion, Cleveland, while the Eagles blanked Rio Rancho in Thursday’s semifinals.
No. 1 ALBUQUERQUE HIGH 3, No. 4 CLEVELAND 2 (OT): How frequently is there an undefeated, untied state champ? Well, no boys team in any classification has accomplished it since Sandia Prep 14 years ago.
And it’s been 18 years since it was done in the largest class, that being Eldorado in 2001.
Thursday, it was sophomore midfielder Andres Robles, with a penalty kick goal in the 90th minute that propelled the Bulldogs (20-0) into the final.
“Very happy about this win,” Robles said. “It’s a hard one, but we keep going.”
Teammate Christian Nava was tripped in the box, leading to the PK. Robles has been an Albuquerque High staple from the line all season. Even the one PK he attempted that didn’t initially reach the back of the net turned into a goal when he scored on the rebound.
AHS won in Wednesday’s quarterfinals against La Cueva in overtime – also in the 90th minute, coincidentally.
“It speaks to the nature of this tournament,” Bulldogs coach Lucien Starzynski said. “Seems like it’s like this every single year. You go into this tournament playing pretty well, but inevitably, it turns into an absolute grind. The best team is the one that can grind through three games.”
Cleveland (16-6) had the first goal, by Nicholas Legendre, and led 1-0 at halftime.
The Bulldogs seized the lead with a quick burst, goals in the 51st minute by Alejandro Nevarez and 53rd minute from Nava, to take the lead. But the Storm, which put up a spirited title defense, got the equalizer in the 70th minute from its star senior forward, Gabriel Legendre.
AHS won state two years ago. The pressure on Friday will be quite different, as it is unbeaten.
“There’s always pressure when you’re undefeated,” Robles said. “(Teams that play us) are gonna come with everything, we just have to match it or be better than that. Eyes on the prize.”
ABQ. HIGH 3, CLEVELAND 2 (OT)
Cleveland 1 1 0 — 2
AHS 0 2 1 — 3
Scoring: C, 27th, Nicholas Legendre; AHS, 51st, Alejandro Nevarez (Jared Moyers); AHS, 53rd, Christian Nava (Dylan Castillo); C, 70th, Gabriel Legendre; AHS, 90th, Andres Robles (PK). Records: AHS 20-0; C 16-6.
No. 6 HOBBS 2, No. 7 RIO RANCHO 0: The Eagles (17-5-1) got a first-half goal from their fifth-year senior forward, Keaton Hartman – his 31st of the season – and that was all Hobbs would need as it eliminated the Rams (15-8).
“It’s about time,” said Eagles coach Jose Mares, who is retiring after this season, his 12th with Hobbs. “It was time to punch through.”
Hartman rammed home a shot from nearly 30 yards out for an early lead. Jose Gamez’s goal, which came straight off a corner kick and banged into the goal off the far upright, was insurance late in the match for the Eagles.
“This is my fifth year, and we have tons of experience, and it obviously shows out here,” said Hartman. … “We just want it more than the other team. We put in the effort all season and it shows here. They don’t want it as much.”
The Eagles were a 2 seed at state a year ago, but fell in the quarterfinals.
“I knew we would be here,” Hartman said, “but this is beyond what I thought. It’s amazing what we’re doing now.”
Hobbs last won state in this sport in 1997 and last appeared in the final in 2000. Rio Rancho (15-8) was trying to advance to the state final for the first time.
One fan was ejected in the second half as there was a brief scrum.
HOBBS 2, RIO RANCHO 0
Rio Rancho 0 0 — 0
Hobbs 1 1 — 2
Scoring: H, 1H, Keaton Hartman (Giovanni Gonzalez); H, 2H, Jose Gamez. Shots on goal: RR 3; H 8. Corners: RR 13; H 9. Records: H 17-5-1; RR 15-8.