BERNALILLO — As he observed his team at the breakfast table, Los Alamos head boys soccer coach Ron Blue had an inkling that goalie Jaxson Martines was destined for something big Thursday.
“There was something different about him,” Blue recalled. “I was looking at my assistant, I was like, ‘There’s something different about Jaxson.’ And he was like, ‘He is dialed in.’ ”
As it turned out, the No. 2 Hilltoppers needed every bit of Martines’ focus to outlast third-seeded Albuquerque St. Pius X in a Class 4A semifinal at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex.
Los Alamos (17-5) advanced to Friday’s championship match with a 4-3 victory in a penalty-kick shootout after ending regulation and two overtimes deadlocked at 1-1. In the shootout, Martines outdueled his St. Pius counterpart Coleman Speer, clinching the victory with a save of a shot from the Sartans’ Ethan Johnson.
Martines’ ability to recognize tendencies paid off down the stretch.
“I noticed that the past few had gone right, so I had a feeling he was gonna go left,” Martines said. “I kind of read it a little bit, too, and went left and saved it.”
Moments earlier, senior midfielder Syler Sylvester scored what turned out to be the decisive goal against Speer, earning himself a nickname in the process.
“In practice he tells me, ‘Coach, I’m the Iceman. I’ve got ice in my veins. Don’t worry.’ He’s a funny kid,” Blue said. “Sy’s a shooter. He steps up, shoots the ball, is pretty confident with it and he’s done pretty well. He’s the Iceman, I guess.”
After a first half that featured goals from Los Alamos’ Aiden Semelsberger and St. Pius’ Marcus Garcia, scoring chances came at a premium the rest of the way. The Hilltoppers and Sartans played a similarly tense game during the season, with Los Alamos emerging with a 2-1 double overtime road win.
“The first time we beat them, I wouldn’t have said we were the better team,” Blue said. “I think it was pretty evenly matched. We got the better of them. Same thing here.”
Added Martines: “It’s just huge because the past few years they’ve had our number. This year, we’ve really got the best of them.”
It helps having someone like Martines, who the Hilltoppers staff lauds as the best goalkeeper in the state. The junior helped keep the speedy Sartans at bay until the shootout. Blue didn’t have to say much to his team.
“I said, ‘Go up there with a certain level of confidence because Jaxson’s gonna save some,’ ” Blue said. “I truly believed it. That’s what we expect from him.”
The Hilltoppers will play No. 4 Los Lunas on Friday for the 4A title.
The Tigers defeated Los Alamos 2-1 on Aug. 31 as part of the Louis Cernicek Tournament hosted by the Hilltoppers. For Los Lunas, it was a chance to erase some sting of a 7-0 Class 4A semifinal loss to Los Alamos last season, although Blue points out that his current squad differs greatly from a year ago.
“We beat them 7-0 last year. They returned a good portion of those kids, and they remembered it,” Blue said. “The coach even told me, ’It’s payback.’ I was like, ‘I got four guys from last year’s team playing in that game.’
“They’re really good. They’ve got some players who can score. They’ve got athletic players all over the field. They work so hard. We got our hands full.”