Cleveland teams coming home — but not going home

Nov. 3—It’s extremely rare that high school soccer teams get to play a state championship on their true home field, but the Cleveland boys and girls — one seeded to get this far, the other not so much — will both have that chance on Saturday.

The 12th-seeded boys upset No. 1 Volcano Vista 3-2, while the top-seeded girls blanked defending state champion Cibola 3-0 in Wednesday afternoon’s Class 5A semifinals.

Cleveland and No. 3 Eldorado will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday in the girls title game, followed at 1:30 p.m. by the Storm boys and No. 2 Centennial.

5A Boys

Emmanuel Ruiz delivered a well-placed header off a direct kick with 10 minutes remaining, breaking a 2-all tie to send the Storm to the final for the first time since 2018.

“I just saw the ball and headed it. That’s about it,” Ruiz said with a shrug. “Honestly, I just hit it. Luck. It was luck more than anything.”

Nevertheless, the fortunate hit from Ruiz, who finished off the 30-yard service from Dominic Aguilar following a foul, continued an improbable Cleveland (12-6-5) streak of three straight postseason upsets following wins over No. 5 Albuquerque High and No. 4 Hobbs.

“We got on a little roll,” Storm coach Shaun Gill said. “The boys are confident and we’re playing well. We’re peaking right at the right time.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt that the championship matches will be played at Cleveland’s home field.

“It’s been a big motivator,” Gill said. “They really wanted to play their last game at home and we are.”

As District 1 foes, the Hawks (15-2-3) went 2-0-1 against the Storm in the regular season. But each game was tight, with the two victories coming by one-goal margins.

After trading goals midway through the first half, Cleveland took the lead into halftime when Isaac Hendricks volleyed a ball from about 35 yards out after it had bounced around and out following a corner kick. The unlikely shot turned out to be perfectly placed into the far upper corner above goalkeeper Jacob Schreiner’s outstretched arms.

Story continues

The Hawks got the equalizer in the 55th minute on a Jovany Orona shot that somehow rolled its way in through traffic in front of goal.

But then Ruiz cashed in a bit of luck.

“Honestly, being the 12th seed, even making it (to the state tournament) was a big deal,” he said. “We know we played good during the district, but not good enough to get a better seed. So to make it all the way here is a pretty big deal.”

Centennial routed No. 6 Santa Fe 5-0 in the other semifinal as senior Saleh Alyones recorded a hat trick for the Hawks (20-1-1).

— Glen Rosales

5A Girls

The Storm beat the fifth-seeded Cougars for the APS Metro title, beat them again to clinch the District 1-5A crown and then shut out the defending state champions on Wednesday.

Senior Maleah Quiñones gave the host Storm (18-1-1) the only goal it would need in the 12th minute. About six minutes later, with the wind at her back, junior Sienna Salazar’s free kick from midfield sailed over Cibola (14-7) junior goalkeeper Lindsay Heras’ head to make it 2-0.

Junior Ella Lent-Koop lofted the ball over Heras’ head five minutes into the second half to cap the scoring as Cleveland posted its eighth shutout of the season.

— Gary Herron

At the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces, sophomore forward Haley Robinson’s 70th-minute goal broke a tie and sent the Eagles (17-2-2) past the previously unbeaten Lady Bulldawgs (20-1-1) 2-1 on Wednesday evening.

Robinson took a feed from Sydney Montgomery, and from just outside the top of the 18, fired a shot into the upper right corner.

4A Boys

Lovington (19-2-1) is in the state championship game for the third straight year following a 1-0 semifinal win Wednesday against No. 4 Goddard (17-5).

The Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Cleveland will face No. 6 Hope Christian (18-4-1), which rode a fifth-minute goal from sophomore forward Justus Mason — his second game-winner in this postseason — to a 1-0 victory Wednesday over No. 7 Highland.

Josh Kelshaw sent the ball in on a long direct kick; Mason gathered the ball off his thigh, and boomed a shot in from 12 yards out with his left foot.

“Never been to the state final before, and we have a lot of seniors this year and I’m glad to (help) bring them there for their final season,” Mason said.

His shot, ironically enough, was Hope’s only excellent scoring opportunity the entire game.

“Strange thing about soccer,” Huskies coach Steve Kokulis observed. “One chance and you can win a game.”

Mason had scored his team’s only goal last Saturday in a 1-0 quarterfinal win at Los Alamos.

The Hornets had few decent looks until about midway through the second half, but Hope sophomore goalkeeper Cody Guggino made a couple of outstanding saves to preserve the clean sheet.

“We thought it would be wide open for literally all 12 teams,” Kokulis said. “We didn’t think there was one particular team that was the frontrunner. So we figured, we not us?”

Hope is in the final for the first time since 2017. Highland (16-4-2) was attempting to get to the final for the first time since 1991 but was ousted in the semis for the second straight year.

— James Yodice

4A Girls

In a semifinal matchup of the two most decorated programs in girls 4A soccer, the third-seeded St. Pius X Sartans stunned their host rivals, the No. 2 Albuquerque Academy Chargers.

St. Pius (14-4) defeated Academy 2-1 in extra time Wednesday afternoon. Sophomore Carina Suarez scored the golden goal in the 89th minute, late in the first overtime, to send the Sartans to the final at 4 p.m. Saturday against No. 1 Hope Christian.

“It feels really good,” Suarez said about scoring the decisive goal. “It was just a matter of working together as a team.”

Both squads had difficulty breaking through to start the game. St. Pius goalkeeper Gianna Maldonado made a spectacular save late in the first half to keep the score 0-0 at the break.

After an offside call negated a goal for the Sartans in the 49th minute, the game intensified. The Chargers (13-6-3) took the lead in the 54th minute after freshman Adeline Spratley finished a feed from junior Piper Wiese.

In the 77th minute, Suarez took advantage of a bouncing ball in the box to tie the game for St. Pius. She then scored the game-winner. Senior Natasha Montoya was credited with assists on both goals.

“The girls played great. They played with a lot of grit,” St. Pius coach Abigail Tarin said.

This was the first time the rivals have met in the playoffs since the 2019 championship game.

Undefeated No. 1 seed Hope Christian is one win away from a repeat title, winning 6-0 over No. 4 seed Los Alamos in the tournament’s first semifinal.

Hope defeated St. Pius 4-1 back on Sept. 1. This will be the third straight year the programs have met in the title game. Hope won 2-1 last season, and St. Pius won 2-1 in 2020.

“They are strong team, that’s for sure,” Tarin said about Hope. “We’re excited to play them again.”

Tarin is seeking a title in her first season as head coach after taking over for three-time champion David Sullivan Jr. When Tarin was in school at St. Pius, the Sartans won three state titles.


St. Pius 0 1 1 — 2

Academy 0 1 0 — 1

Scoring: AA, 54th, Adeline Spratley (Piper Wiese); SP, 77th, Carina Suarez (Natasha Montoya); SP, 89th, Suarez (Montoya). Shots: SP 6, AA 9. Corner kicks: SP 0, AA 7.

It took unbeaten Hope Christian (22-0) nearly the entire first half to get its motor revved. Then the Huskies scored all six goals in a span of 30 game minutes.

Senior midfielder Ashlyn Salas had four goals in a 6-0 victory over No. 4 Los Alamos (13-9), which kept this tight for the majority of the first half.

“Those first 15 minutes, talk about sweating. (Los Alamos) played phenomenal,” Huskies coach Amy Fankam said. “Thank goodness we settled down and got it figured out.”

Savanah Sanchez’s goal, the first of two for her, in the 35th minute, gave her team the lead it didn’t relinquish. Salas added a penalty kick goal three minutes later, and it was 2-0 at halftime. Sanchez’s second goal made it 3-0 early in the second half, then Salas tallied the final three.

“Usually we start out a little rough,” Salas said. “And then we end up warming into the game, and that’s when we start connecting and finding each other.”

Only two of the Huskies’ 22 victories were by a single goal, both against Albuquerque Academy. Hope beat St. Pius in the 4A final a year ago. They play again at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cleveland.

Junior midfielder Zylee Dominguez came into the game for Hope Christian leading the state in assists (34). She added four helpers to that total Wednesday.

“I just do what I do, and they finish every time, so they make my job easy,” she said.

— James Yodice


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