The quarterfinals would end up being the final round for the Socorro Warriors during the 2019 State Championship. After winning the first round qualifier the previous weekend the sixth seeded Warriors could not overcome the three seed Sandia Prep Sundevils, going scoreless in a 5-0 loss to end its campaign on November 6.
Field 10 was wet and muddy during the 12:30 p.m. matchup at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex as it had been raining all morning long. No player went home with a clean uniform.
“The mud out there on the pitch makes a big difference,” junior Zedikiah Ochoa said. “One wrong move and that could be the end of your season. Could cause broken bones. But that’s no excuse. Our team played hard but there were plenty of mistakes we could have cleaned up, myself included, that could have helped us win.”
A brief back and forth between the teams finally broke open off a corner kick rebound score by Devils sophomore Jake Eckenroth. Socorro had its first legitimate shot when sophomore Josh Walsh made a nice run but overshot the goal. From there the Prep offense began to keep the pressure on the Warriors defense which had Keeper Gavin Spitz constantly on his toes. Midfielder Dane Gallegos scored goal number two off a corner kick header late in the first half, a corner that the entire Warriors coaching staff were arguing with the refs that it should have been an inbounds and not a corner.
During halftime the light sprinkle of rain began to pick up again. Warriors Head Coach Billy Oxford had multiple conversations with the head and line judges about strong slide tackles that were not called penalties.
“This tends to happen when we come and play at this arena around this time of year,” he said. “There’s slipping and sliding all over the field on both sides and the refs typically let things go more with it being the playoffs. My primary concern as I’m sure all the other coaches was as well is to make sure all of the kids get on the bus in one piece.”
Second half scoring came quick with Prep senior Blue Kozikowski connecting on a rebound. The Warriors struggled to clear balls out of the box throughout the second half which is how the Sundevils were able to finish three more times.
While frustrations were setting in, a heated interaction between Sandia Prep Head Coach Tommy Smith and Warriors junior midfielder James Woods took place on the sidelines. Woods was arguing a penalty call against Socorro, made a loud but non-expletive comment, and Smith proceeded to yell “I’m not talking to you son! I’m not talking to you son! Get back on your side!” repeatedly as Woods walked away after his initial frustrated outburst. After the game during the team handshakes Smith refused to shake Woods hand which had the Warriors coaching staff calming down the player and the team upset with some claiming disrespect and lack of professionalism by the Prep coach.
Emotions were understandably high as the season was over when they came in for the final team huddle, which lasted almost 20 minutes. Team Captain Skyler Bunning, covered in mud and grass stains, found it hard to hold his head up walking back to the bus.
“Everybody played their hardest today,” he said. “Things happen. Mistakes happen. The speed in which they (Prep) came to the ball was very hard for us out there. The way they distributed the ball we just couldn’t keep up. They deserved to win today. Getting ready for next season starts right now.”
Coach Oxford encouraged the team to remember all of the positive moments from the season.
“I told the guys to look themselves in the mirror with every bit of respect,” Oxford said. “There’s no shame here. The integrity that we walk off the pitch with is exceptional. We’re proud of the way we play the game. Now it’s time to prepare for 2020. Next year we are coming strong and I’ll put it on the record this team is going to be utterly dominate.
The Warriors finished at 11-8-1, one win fewer than its 2018 campaign. Sandia Prep went down in the semifinals to two seeded NMMI 1-0. The real story of the tournament was eighth seeded St. Michael’s who went on a miracle run, beating the one, four and two seed 1-0 in the final game to be crowned Class A-3A State Champions.