The St. Pius Sartans have a girls soccer championship trifecta firmly in their sights.
No one said achieving it would be easy.
The two-time defending Class 4A champs had to weather a storm of second-half pressure before earning a 1-0 victory over visiting Los Alamos in Wednesday’s state semifinals. Natasha Montoya’s short-range goal in the 31st minute was the difference.
The top-seeded Sartans (17-1) will face No. 2 Hope Christian in Friday’s state final at 10 a.m. at UNM Soccer Stadium. The Huskies advanced with a 3-1 win over Albuquerque Academy on Wednesday, setting up a rematch of last spring’s 4A championship won 2-1 by the Sartans.
“We haven’t played them at all since the last championship, so it’s going to be a battle,” Montoya said. “They want what we have and we definitely want to keep it.”
St. Pius ended up in a battle Wednesday after controlling most of the first half and grabbing a lead on Montoya’s goal. She scored from directly in front of the Hilltoppers’ goal, collecting the ball after her initial shot rebounded off a defender and banging it into the net.
The Sartans, who extended their winning streak to 10 games, had another apparent goal waved off by an offside call and applied steady pressure through most of the first 40 minutes.
But the Hilltoppers (13-6-2) turned the tables in the second half, forcing the action and keeping St. Pius pinned back for lengthy stretches. Tara McDonald had several breakthrough chances on free kicks but was unable to put her shots on frame.
McDonald did get one low shot on target in the 64th minute, but St. Pius goalkeeper Gianna Maldonado was in position to grab it. Los Alamos later had two close calls in front after a free kick but the Sartans blocked the first try before the second zipped just outside the right post.
“We’d practiced being defensive coming into this game,” Montoya said, “because we knew Los Alamos would bring energy in the second half. We just had to hold onto the one goal and I’m so glad we were able to do it.”
– Ken Sickenger
ST. PIUS 1, LOS ALAMOS 0
Los Alamos 0 0 — 0
St. Pius 1 0 — 1
Scoring: 31st, SP, Natasha Montoya. Shots on goal: SP 2, LA 1. Corner kicks: SP 9, LA 4. Saves: SP (Gianna Maldonado/Kylie Patalan) 1, LA (Dalia Drew) 1. Records: SP (17-1), LA 13-6-2.
HOPE CHRISTIAN 3, ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY 1: At Hope Christian, Husky eyes were wide open and the bench was silent after Albuquerque Academy junior forward Anna Babinski collected a pass on a dead sprint down the deep left flank in the 42nd minute, stopped on a dime to step back to the right and used her powerful right foot to launch a laser into to the far top corner of the goal over the outstretched arms of goalie Dylan Rees.
Senior midfielder Emma Brown found Babinski in space on the left, setting up Babinski for her mind-boggling 52nd goal of the season for the No. 3 seeded Chargers, the only team to defeat Hope Christian this season (2-0 on Oct. 12).
“Yes there was a little bit of panic – a little bit freaked out after that,” said Hope’s sophomore striker Savanah Sanchez. “But right as we walked to the center and we all looked at each other and said we aren’t losing on our field. It’s just not happening.”
Any worry there may have been subsided less than 90 seconds later when, much like Babinski had just done on the other end of the field, Sanchez was attacking on the left side of the box, drawing Academy keeper Cara Anderson out before deftly passing across the box to hard-charging senior forward Hannah Gutierrez for an easy empty net goal to tie the match 1-1 in the 44th minute.
Gutierrez later assisted Sanchez on a goal in the 52nd minute for a 2-1 lead but there wasn’t breathing room until Sanchez caught up to a deep ball cleared from defender Ravae Jaramillo and chipped it over Anderson – left pretty much on her own in the back at that point – in the 74th minute for the clincher.
Academy, which found success with a high press early, winning three corner kicks in the opening four minutes thanks to aggressive play Hope took a few minutes to adjust to, ends the season at 15-7 and remains the only team to beat Hope, going 1-3 against the Huskies.
Hope now gets a rematch from last spring’s state title game loss to No. 1 seed St. Pius – a game that has fueled the Huskies.
“I think we started trusting each other a lot more this season since that loss,” said Gutierrez. “That made playing this season easier and now we have to go finish it.”
– Geoff Grammer
No. 2 HOPE CHRISTIAN 3,
No. 3 ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY 1
Academy 0 1 — 1
Hope Christian 0 3 — 3
Scoring: AA, 42nd, Anna Babinski (Emma Brown); HC, 44th, Hannah Gutierrez (Savana Sanchez); HC, 52nd, Sanchez (Gutierrez); HC, 74th, Sanchez (Ravae Jaramillo). Shots: AA 6; HC 12. Saves: AA, Cara Anderson 9; HC, Dylan Rees 5. Corners: AA 4; HC 3. Records: AA 15-7; HC 20-1.
CLASS 5A GIRLS
No. 1 CIBOLA 3, No. 4 HOBBS 1: It was a struggle between opposing philosophies as the smooth, quick-passing Cougars (15-2-1) moved the ball around the field, keeping it away from the Eagles (16-3-1) and their direct, over-the-top style of play.
And underlying it all was a smash-mouth attitude from both squads.
In the end, however, it was Cibola’s ability to get powerful shots on frame that proved to be the difference.
“They have a couple of really fast girls up top so we figured that’s what they were going to try and do,” said Cougars coach Heath Weihe. “We had our defense pinch them so that we always had them contained so that they weren’t big threats.”
On offense, Cibola wanted to “possess the ball, move the ball around, look for open opportunities on goal,” he said. “Hopefully get a couple in on some set plays and that stuff. First one was off a corner kick so that kind of set us up. Once that happened we relaxed and got into the flow of the game and we were able to take Hobbs out of their game.”
That first goal came in the 11th minute when Emily Aguilar lofted a dangerous corner toward the back post that Ava Carpentier volleyed into the net.
Carpentier was playing despite receiving two cautions in the previous game and was ejected with a red card, which was overturned by the New Mexico Activities Association on appeal.
“We filed an appeal for the second card, which was dissent, and she was talking to me as she came off the field,” Weihe said. “I’m just glad the NMAA went in our favor on that.”
Cibola’s Mercedes Morris boomed a finish three minute into the second half, and added another in the 61st minute off a double feed from Corrine Whitsell and a head flick from Brooke Volza.
“We’re super excited to go to the finals,” Morris said. “A lot of the seniors it’s the first time. We want to take the team all the way. We want to be the leaders and we want to end big.”
– Glen Rosales
No. 1 CIBOLA 3, No. 4 HOBBS 1
Hobbs 0 1 — 1
Cibola 1 2 — 3
Scoring: C, 11th, Ava Carpentier (Emily Aguilar); C, 43rd, Mercedes Morris (unassisted); C, Morris (Corrine Whitsell, Brooke Volza), H, 74th, Danielle Rodriguez (penalty kick). Shots on goal: H 4; C 6. Corner kicks: H 1; C 4. Saves: H, Ashley Chacon 3; C, Tylee Tafoya 3. Records: C 15-2-1; H 16-3-1