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Cibola freshman’s goal in 2nd OT beats Eldorado in boys state soccer tourney

The youngest player in the white jersey extended the season of the Cibola Cougars.

Freshman Matt Berlint, feeling awful after missing a golden opportunity to perhaps win the game in regulation for Cibola, was his own best redemption story at the APS Complex. Berlint headed home a perfect cross in the second overtime that lifted the Cougars to a thrilling, 2-1 victory over Eldorado on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Class 6A state tournament.

“I am breathless,” Berlint said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. Best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

Teammate Josh Chavez sent a perfect cross across the box to Berlint, who found himself with a clean look at net.

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Eldorado goalkeeper Joey Rossner went to cover the near post, but Berlint’s header bounced into the far corner instead.

“I knew I had to finish it,” Berlint said.

That goal in the 98th minute ended a game that Cibola tended to control but also one with both teams getting numerous outstanding looks, including in both 10-minute overtimes.

The teams were only about 2½ minutes from penalty kicks before Berlint’s goal.

“He was heartbroken after (regulation), because he had a chance inside the box,” Cibola coach Cameron Clarke said, referring to Berlint’s missed finish with about six minutes left in the second half. “But everyone misses sometimes. It was good for him (to come back and get the game-winner).”

Both regulation goals came in the second half, with Gavin Sleeter’s header in the 44th minute staking the ninth-seeded Eagles (12-7) to a 1-0 lead.

In the 61st minute came a goal that left both coaches, both benches and probably most of the fans in awe.

Cibola’s Joe Ortiz was not far from his bench when he fired a blast toward goal. He had virtually no angle, but he still beat a shocked Rossner for the equalizer.

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“A miracle goal,” Eldorado coach Tom Hirschman said. “An unbelievable strike.”

No one seemed quite sure then whether it was intended as a cross for a teammate or not. It was hard to believe it was an intended shot on net, from where Ortiz was standing.

“Maybe it was a cross,” Clarke said, adding with a smile, “He’ll tell you it was a shot now.”

No. 8 seed Cibola (13-5-1) will face top-seeded La Cueva in Thursday night’s quarterfinals. The Cougars beat the Bears 1-0 in the regular season.

– James Yodice

HOBBS 2, CLEVELAND 1 (OT): If high school soccer games lasted only 79 minutes, the host Storm (9-7-5) would be advancing to a 6A state quarterfinal game against Rio Rancho on Thursday.

But games are 80 minutes long, and Hobbs captain D’Andre Finney’s line drive past Storm goalkeeper Dominic Valenzuela kept the 10th-seeded Eagles alive, at least into overtime at Cleveland on Saturday afternoon. The relentless Eagles had kept the ball on the Storm’s side of the field for what seemed the entire second half.

About four minutes later, early in the first OT, Finney was headed downfield on a breakaway, beating Valenzuela again to extend the season for Hobbs (13-5) into next week and a matchup with the Rams.

“We knew it was going to be a one-goal game, either way,” Hobbs coach Jose Mares said. “We gave up an easy goal, a big mistake (Cleveland’s Jacob Meyer scored in the eighth minute). … This is the time to be great, so I think that helped a lot. We knew it was our game. The guys at halftime were motivated. They knew we’d get a goal eventually; we had to keep working.”

It was the first time the seventh-seeded Storm had allowed more than one goal in a game since a 3-2 victory over Highland on Sept. 19.

“The guys played their hearts out. I’m proud of them,” said Cleveland coach Shaun Gill, whose team played a man down after a player ejection late in the second half. “(It was) a disappointing finish to a good game.”

– Gary Herron

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