The Bulldog soccer team has made a habit in recent years of not returning empty-handed from the Louie Cernicek Tournament in Los Alamos, and 2023 was no exception.
With a win over a Class 5A opponent, a close battle against the hosts, and a thriller in penalty kicks versus a District 4-AAAA mate, the ‘Dogs headed home with third-place hardware over the weekend, along with a wealth of valuable early-season experience.
Artesia kicked off its tournament run Friday morning against 5A Clovis and quickly took control in a game that saw them dominate possession overall. The boys in orange took a 2-0 lead in at the half, then matched the Wildcats 1-1 in the second for the 3-1 win.
Sophomore Cutter Summers had a pair of goals on the contest with classmate Moises Corza scoring the third, and junior Damian Perches finished with two assists. Artesia had 13 shots on goal to Clovis’ five, with Wildcat freshman Denym Lodge accounting for the goal. Bulldog keeper Sebastian Gonzalez saved the other four attempts.
“We played well there, and that put us on the winning side of the bracket, which matched us up against Los Alamos,” head coach Phillip Jowers said Tuesday. “It was inevitable that we’d have to play them, but we were excited about it, especially since winning Friday meant we didn’t have to play until the next morning instead of having to play again that day.”
The ‘Dogs would have preferred taking on the Hilltoppers in the championship, as was the case in 2022, but despite coming up short by a final of 3-0, the Artesia boys competed well against the third-ranked team in the state across all classifications.
The two squads were scoreless at the break, but the ‘Toppers were able to thrice find the net in the final 40 minutes on goals by ShivAntar Khaisa, Jackson Boone and Liam Cunningham. Gonzalez saved Los Alamos’ remaining eight shots on goal, and Corza and Othoniel Alvidrez both got solid looks offensively.
“They’re pretty solid,” said Jowers. “We just had a few moments in the second half, and they took advantage of those moments. But that’s what happens when you play a good team — if you give them a gap, they’re going to expose you.”
The semifinal loss sent the Bulldogs into the tournament’s third-place game, where they found themselves squaring off against a familiar foe: the Goddard Rockets. And as is typical of an Artesia-Goddard matchup, things went down to the wire.
“We were up 1-0, then they tied it, and then we were down 2-1 at half,” Jowers said. “We ended up being down for the majority of the game, but within the last seven or eight minutes — maybe even less — we were able to come back and tie it up again.”
That second deadlock would last through the end of regulation plus two 10-minute sessions of overtime, meaning the bout officially goes in the books as a tie. But to decide third place, a shootout was in order, and the ‘Dogs came out on top there, 5-4.
“The boys needed that penalty win because we had just practiced penalties for 45 minutes to an hour the day before we left,” said Jowers. “And they were pretty clinical about stepping up and putting them away.
“One thing these boys have done well with this year is finding a way. And that’s encouraging, because mentally, it can be pretty rough when you’re up by one, then they tie it, and then you go down and have to come back to tie it again. It’s mentally hard, but they found a way.”
Corza and Damian Lopez logged the Bulldogs’ two goals in regulation, the former on an assist from Alvidrez and the latter on an assist from Corza. Gonzalez tallied seven saves on the contest.
With the 1-1-1 showing, the Bulldogs moved to 2-3-1 on the season as they prepare to host their second home outing at 6 p.m. Thursday against Class 3A Ruidoso at the Mack Chase Athletic Complex. The Warriors are currently 0-2-1 with losses to Lovington and East Mountain and a tie with Moriarty, whom Artesia topped 2-1 in their home opener Aug. 26.
“They’ve got a new head coach, and they also have one of our former players [Miguel Gallegos] coaching with them,” Jowers said. “Their previous coach was getting them going pretty good, so I imagine they’ll still be strong. We’re going to view them just like the next Hobbs or the next Los Alamos or the next Albuquerque Academy… everybody’s somebody that could potentially put it to you, so you have to be ready.
“Out of all the things we did over the weekend, we competed well and everybody stayed healthy. This year, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on taking care of our feet and our bodies, taking care of good nutrition, having a good pre-game warm-up and a good post-game warm-down, and taking care of all the little things so we can last the full season. So we should be in good shape, and I think the boys are excited to play another home game.”