Joe Ortiz’s head and Lexi Nutter’s right leg led to Albuquerque Metro Soccer Championships on Friday night.
Ortiz’s late header was the difference for Cibola against La Cueva, while Nutter had a pair of direct-kick goals for Rio Rancho in their victory over La Cueva at the APS Complex.
CIBOLA 1, LA CUEVA 0: The Cougars won their second straight metro title, and this one came down to sheer math against the 4-1 Bears.
In the 74th minute, the 6-foot-1 Ortiz and another Cibola teammate, went up in the air for a 50-50 ball with a La Cueva defender and Bears freshman goalkeeper Anthony Muñoz right near the penalty-kick stripe.
Ortiz, a junior, got his head on the ball before Muñoz, shorter by several inches, could get his hands on it, and Ortiz redirected the ball into the open net.
“I beat him by a millisecond to the ball,” Ortiz said. “That’s what it takes sometimes.”
The goal send Cibola’s large and loud crowd into a lather as the Cougars finished a 5-0 run through the metro field.
“When it really matters in big games, Joe is usually one of the guys that comes up big for us,” Cougars coach Cameron Clarke said.
Muñoz, La Cueva coach Kevin Driggs said, hesitated ever so briefly before making a play on the ball, which probably gave Ortiz the brief opening he needed on the game-winner.
But Muñoz helped keep this game scoreless for most of the way, playing beyond his years.
“I don’t want to take anything away from him, he played his tail off,” Driggs said. “Without him, we would have been in a lot of trouble.”
“That kid is amazing,” Clarke said of Muñoz. “You wouldn’t know he was a freshman unless you looked at his birth certificate.”
Cibola will face perhaps its toughest test of the season next week, when the Cougars meet Sandia Prep.
RIO RANCHO 2, LA CUEVA 1: Nutter occupies a center-back position for the Rams, but when Rio Rancho has a direct kick, they turn to the junior.
And did she ever deliver on Friday night, with two terrific direct-kick goals, one of them from her half of the pitch.
Nutter’s first goal came from 55 to 60 yards away with about 10 minutes left in the first half.
It took one bounce and went over the head of La Cueva goalkeeper Grace Walker.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a goal,” a sheepish Nutter said. “It was a chip. I was so shocked, so excited.”
Five minutes later, she lined up for another one, this time from about 35 yards out. She used a helping wind to curve it over the Bears’ defense and over Walker’s head for a 2-0 advantage.
“I was just hoping to get a good cross,” Nutter said.
“I just told her to put it on goal as hard as she could,” Rams coach Uwe Balzis said.
Rio Rancho is off to a flying 7-0 start, and now the Rams face perhaps the toughest week of their regular season, with matchups against last year’s Class 4A state champion, St. Pius, on Tuesday, and a rematch with these Bears (4-1) on Thursday.
La Cueva’s Cassie Boren had the Bears’ goal, which was also off a direct kick, in the 62nd minute.