SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Grace Romero picked an opportune time to hit the best — and prettiest — shot of her soccer career to date.
The St. Pius senior forward lofted a beautiful ball over the outstretched arms of Albuquerque Academy goalie Lorelei Logan at the 29th minute to give her team a two-score lead in the girls Class 4A state championship game on Friday. The goal, which came from approximately 30 yards out, ultimately held up as the deciding moment in the top-seeded Sartans’ 2-1 victory over No. 3 Academy.
“I had no idea that it was gonna be that good,” Romero said. “If I’m honest, I kind of blink before I take the shot.”
With the win, St. Pius ended Academy’s streak of consecutive blue trophies at three, a reign which included a victory over the Sartans in 2016. Ironically, that Chargers victory ended a St. Pius run of three straight championships.
“We’ve been tussling back and forth. They have dynasties and we get dynasties. Hats off to them,” St. Pius coach David Sullivan Jr. said.
“Just to have a shot to play in this final was a great opportunity,” Academy coach Peter Glidden said. “We obviously wanted to get a different result. We just didn’t quite have the quality that we needed in terms of the chances and possession to beat a really good St. Pius team.”
The Chargers (17-6) didn’t go quietly. Alexis Lin matched Romero with a long-range, high-arching shot of her own, one that got over St. Pius keeper Alicia Barela and cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 72nd minute. Just as they did in a 2-1 semifinal win over Aztec, the Sartans (16-5) spent the waning moments of the game fending off a furious rally.
“Again it’s one of those things where we were on the ropes,” Sullivan said. “We’re on the ropes and that back line, team effort, every girl was committed today. Every girl was going as hard as they could go.”
Academy’s last best chance to tie came when Willa Wiese tracked down a high, floating pass just to the right of the St. Pius goal. Wiese couldn’t connect cleanly on the shot, though, and Barela was able to secure a relatively easy save.
“It was tough. The ball floated in. She just didn’t know if she had time or not,” Glidden said. “She tried to one-time it. Just unlucky. That’s one of those things that could’ve gone our way and didn’t. We had things in our three-peat that did go our way, so that’s the way it’s gonna be.”
It was an especially satisfying victory for Romero, who was a freshman when Academy won its first of three straight titles at the Sartans’ expense. Sullivan praised his senior star for playing “every position I’ve needed her to in her four years here.”
All that work paid off on Friday. According to Romero, the Sartans have been on a mission since the summer.
“My senior year from the beginning, my coach told us we’re winning state. It was just drilled in us and we didn’t give up,” Romero said. “My team had my back and I had their backs. It was just all in.”
NO. 1 ST. PIUS 2, NO. 3 ACADEMY 1
Academy 0 1—1
St. Pius 2 0—2
Scoring: SP, 15th, Emma Donlin (penalty kick); SP, 29th, Grace Romero; A, 72nd, Alexis Lin. Shots: A 6, SP 7. Saves: A, Lorelei Logan 4, SP, Alicia Barela 2. Corner kicks: A 1, SP 4. Records: S 16-5, A 17-6.