BERNALILLO — Life defies logic sometimes.
It might be the only way to describe the improbable run the St. Michael’s boys soccer team went on for three days in Bernalillo.
How else can you describe the sudden turn of fortunes for a program that always seemed bereft of them? The path to the state title in the Class 1A/3A Boys State Soccer Championship tested the eighth-seeded Horsemen in exactly the fashion a state champion should:
• Beat their long-time city rivals (Santa Fe Prep) in a tight, defensive battle, scoring twice in the final 12 minutes;
• Knocked off two teams that upended St. Michael’s in dramatic fashion during the regular season, and finally;
• Beat the second-seeded team in a scoreless duel and win a penalty kick shootout, even though the Horsemen missed the two penalty kicks they had during the state tournament.
The fitting end to a glorious 4-2 shootout win over New Mexico Military Institute, that cemented a 1-0 win for the Horsemen, also was wrapped in a storyline that was good to be true.
Of course, the sophomore goalkeeper for St. Michael’s, who told head coach Mike Feldewert he was “scared [expletive]” prior to the penalty-kick phase, came up with the crucial save against the Colts’ third shooter.
Of course, the senior forward who missed Thursday’s 3-2 double-overtime semifinal win over No. 4 Monte del Sol after his ejection in the quarterfinal win over top-seeded Albuquerque Bosque School was the final penalty-kick shooter that sealed the victory.
Of course, St. Michael’s connected on four of five penalty kicks after missing one against the Bobcats and another in overtime against the Dragons.
Amid all of the “you have to be kidding me” moments toward a blue trophy was a salient point that got lost amid all the unfortunate breaks St. Michael’s suffered, not just this year, but over the past few seasons: The Horsemen were good. They just didn’t have the credentials to prove it — until now.
“We’ve had some issues over the past couple of years that prevented us from getting where we thought we should be,” Feldewert said. “I’ll take that any time if those are the building blocks for where we are this year.”
Those building blocks were found up front, with senior Esteban Rigales as the high-octane forward who scored a team-best 23 goals. He was frustrated by the quick, physical back line of the Colts, which pinched off many of his attacks, and he even picked up a yellow hard in the second half after a hard foul. But he kept his cool the rest of the way, and punched his shot past NMMI goalie Allen Varela into the upper left of the net to end the shootout.
“I was trying to be as calm as possible,” Rigales said. “I was going to do the same thing that I did every time — walk up, put the ball down, look and point my body one way and shoot the other direction. And it worked.”
Even in the afterglow of becoming state champions, Rigales remained in a haze.
“Words can’t describe it,” he said. “It’s an impeccable feeling.”
Impeccable could also describe the back line and the play of Daniel Dominguez, the nervous wreck of a ’keeper. The Horsemen foursome of Santiago Lucero, Aiden French, John Morrison and Kyle Peinado matched NMMI’s backline play, while Dominguez belied his nerves with an outward display of confidence to his teammates.
“He was ready for that, he was ready,” Morrison said. “He was waiting the whole game. He said, ‘No one’s challenging me. I’m gonna win the game for my guys.’ ”
Oh, but there was a moment when the occasion seemed too big for Dominguez. He told Feldewert of the elephant-sized jitters in his stomach as he prepared for the shootout, and uttered his not-something-for-print declaration. Yet, he didn’t show it in the shootout.
When NMMI midfielder Kunal Camp stepped up as the third shooter, Dominguez pounced on the short-legged shot that hit a patch of dirt in front of the goal used to fill holes formed by the wear-and-tear of state-tournament play and softly landed in the diving Dominguez’s arms for a huge save.
“I was very scared,” Dominguez said. “It’s all up to you. All you got to do is make one save, and you pretty much got it. That’s all there is to it.”
That didn’t quite happen, as Aiden French’s shot in the fourth round was plucked by Varela to maintain a 3-2 Horsemen edge. However, Alejandro Reyes Soto sailed his attempt to tie it well over the net, which set up Rigales for his championship shot.
Dominguez’s day did not get off to a sure-fire start, as he misplayed a direct kick that Andres Bleizefferc redirected but hit the side post in the fourth minute. However, he started to find his comfort zone and became the goaltending wizard he was in the semifinal in over Monte del Sol to start the second half. Dominguez had consecutive saves off of shots by John Zimmerman and Jesse Claney right after the break to preserve the scoreless tie.
The Colts also survived some close calls. In the
56th minute, Wesley Sage Graham’s cross to Berkeley Reynolds went off of Reynolds right foot and bounced to Varela. Nine minutes later, Aiden Fairchild was inches from connecting with Graham on a thru ball, but Varela swooped in to break up the opportunity.
Still, all St. Michael’s had to do was survive regulation and the next four overtimes, which they did — but barely.
Morrison made a huge defensive play when Dominguez was out of position in the third overtime and left the net wide open for Claney to redirect a loose ball in the box. The senior defender beat Claney for the ball and poked it to safety. Colts midfielder Daniel Angulo hit the post in the fourth overtime, and it seemed like luck was finally in the corner of the Horsemen.
Reynolds said it was high time it finally happened.
“Ever since I was in ninth grade, it seemed like we came down to the end, and we’d get the bad luck,” Reynolds said. “This time, at this state, we took care of business and had things rolling our way.
“It’s amazing. It’s such a good feeling.”