Lady Warriors squeak by Eagles 5-4 in a thriller

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If there was any concern for Socorro about perhaps needing to shake off some rust after a 12-day span without playing a match, those concerns were swiftly cast aside on Wednesday when Dezirae Armijo knocked in a goal just 1 minute and 40 seconds into its match with Belen.

Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Lady Warriors forward Dominique Moilna heads a ball away from the sideline during Wednesday’s match against Belen. Molina had two goals for Socorro, including the game-winner.

Armijo took a great ball from Amanda Saenz on the play, and when she added her second goal of the match just two minutes later, it looked like the Lady Warriors were going to run away with another one.

After all, Armijo is the state’s all-time leading scorer, she’s got a solid cast of forwards and midfielders on the pitch with her, and Socorro had out scored its opponents by a combined 63-7 so far in the season.

But the Eagles didn’t seemed so impressed, and when they cut the lead in half with a goal just 90 seconds later, it became apparent Belen had indeed come to play. When Alyssa Duran beat Socorro goalkeeper Tayler Hammach for the equalizer 16 minutes in, it became obvious that Belen was no pushover. Then when the Eagles took a 3-2 lead 16 minutes later, the Lady Warriors looked like they might be in for a rough day.

As it turns out, the day would prove more wild and unpredictable than anything else.

“I think we let up a little bit after the first two goals, but we’ve done that before,” Socorro head coach Mitch Carrejo said.

“We told the girls they need to learn to play. We need to come out and play aggressive for 80 minutes. We just were not aggressive at all in the first half.”

And the scoreboard showed exactly that. After they took their initial early lead, the Eagles were able to drop five defenders back to deal with Armijo and her offensive counterpart, Dominique Molina.

The Socorro forwards, so accustomed to scoring, looked frustrated after going 36 minutes without a goal, despite creating some quality scoring opportunities.

“If I was playing against us, I’d put three people on (Armijo) and let somebody else beat me,” Carrejo said. “Because nobody has shown yet that they can step up. We have girls that can do it. They just need to get their confidence up.”

But that’s exactly what happened for Socorro in the second half. Somebody else stepped up, and that somebody was Molina.

Twelve minutes into the second half, she took another great through ball from Saenz and beat Belen goalkeeper Lupita Sabinas, who despite giving up two early goals had since been a force in net for the Eagles. It was a revitalizing goal for the Lady Warriors and also provided a personal spark for the young forward, who had recently been having trouble finding her scoring rhythm.

“Dom’s confidence was way down,” Carrejo said. “She was just in a scoring funk. She can’t put the ball in the net for whatever reason. It was nice to get her to score.”

Despite the Socorro equalizer though, the Eagles were again undeterred. Four minutes later, Belen used another inspired offensive attack to work the ball in to the Lady Warriors penalty area, and Socorro was called for a foul. The referee awarded the Eagles a penalty kick from 12 yards out, and Kaitlyn D’Arcangeli took full advantage as she rocketed the ball into the lower left corner of the net.

Things were then looking in favor of the Eagles. With three first-half goals and a 4-3 lead with 24 minutes left in the contest, one more score might have buried Socorro.

But the home team’s young defense came out more aggressive in the second half and held Belen’s offense in check.

“We have a really young defense, two eighth graders and a freshman,” Carrejo said. “It’s kind of hard to get them in that habit of just playing hard all the time.”

But they did, enough to keep the Eagles out of the net in the final 40 minutes, and momentum returned to Socorro when Ashley Nash knocked in a rebound goal for her team with 14 minutes remaining to again even the score. She would be named the player of the game, as the score seemed to serve as an offensive catalyst for her fellow teammates.

The Lady Warriors began to apply heavy pressure to the Belen defense, consistently getting the ball to their scorers. With fewer than six minutes on the clock, Armijo appeared elated to score the game-winner, but the side judge’s flag was up and she was called off-side. It was one of at least five off-side calls against Socorro on the day.

But the soccer gods were on the side of the Warriors on Wednesday afternoon, and in the waning moments of injury time Molina officially came out of her scoring drought, put in her second goal of the day and won the match for Socorro. The referee blew the final whistle almost immediately after the score.

The last-second victory propels Socorro to 8-3 on the season while Belen drops to 3-6.

It was a fortunate and hard-fought win for the Lady Warriors, but they won’t have too much time to savor it as the 9-1 Cardinals of Robertson will pay a visit this afternoon. Robertson has scored more goals than even Socorro this season.

“They’re tough,” Carrejo said. “From what I’ve been looking at, they’ve got three or four girls that can score. We just need to control the ball. If we just control the ball, work our offense, get our shots and limit their touches on the ball, they can’t outscore us.”

Belen will open up district play at Los Lunas today at 11 a.m., then play host to Gallup on Sept. 25 at 4 p.m.

Kick-off for the Lady Warriors will be at 1 p.m. at Eddie Castaneda Field.