Sandia Prep players celebrate as the Sundevils beat Hatch Valley in the Class 3A state final Friday at Cleveland High School. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)RIO RANCHO – The Sandia Prep boys soccer championship train just continues to roll.
The top-seeded Sundevils (19-4) avenged a mid-season loss to No. 2 Hatch Valley (17-5-1) with a 2-0 win Friday in the finale of the 1A-3A tournament to win a third straight state title, fourth in five seasons and 21st in program history.
“It doesn’t get old,” prep coach Tommy Smith said. “It’s kind of fun.”
Kind of fun indeed as Smith won his 14th title, one behind all-time state leader Jorge Tristani Jr. of St. Pius.
As he has all season, Finnigan Saunders provided the firepower for the Sundevils, scoring both goals.
His first came in the 23rd minute after Sudais Ball sent a long ball down the middle of the field and 20 yards out, a Bears defender whiffed on a clearance as it took a high bounce off the turf at Cleveland High School.
“I saw that and I pounced,” Saunders said. “I figured this was a great opportunity and I bagged the first one in there.”
Until that point, Hatch had been controlling play and moments prior Sundevils goalkeeper Alex Jeffries had to make a dangerous diving punch out of a dangerous opportunity.
Prep earned a little breathing room in the 32nd minute when Mateo Burgos delivered a textbook corner kick in front of goal that Saunders volleyed in.
“The first one kind of came against the run of play,” Smith said. “They had us on us on our heels a little bit but we started to settle in after that first goal.”
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That was something that the Sundevils culled from the teams’ first meeting, he said.
“We thought we had an advantage with some of our speed up front,” Smith said. “And they leave a lot of space behind and I thought with this field being 120 yards long we could exploit. We didn’t hit too many balls over the top, but that first goal we kind of split their backs.”
That first game also was important mentally for the Sundevils, Saunders said.
“We don’t like losing,” he said of what the team learned from the first game. “There’s nothing else to it. We hated the feeling when we lost to them the first time and we knew we were not going to let that happen again.”
The Sundevils came out completely different this time around, he said
“You could just tell from warm ups in the first game that we were not in the right mindset,” Saunders said. “This one we were hungry and we knew what we had to face in this whole team and we executed.”
Smith said he used the result from the first meeting to challenge his squad.
“That first game showed us that if we don’t come out and lay, we’re going to lose the game,” he said. “That was on our minds and that was huge for us.”
No. 1 SANDIA PREP 2, no. 2 HATCH VALLEY 0
Hatch Valley 0 0 — 0
Sandia Prep 2 0 — 2
Scoring: SP, 23rd, Finnegan Saunders (Sudais Ball); SP, 31st, Saunders (Mateo Burgos).
Shots on goal: HV 5; SP 6. CKs: HV 3; SP 4. Saves: HV, Michael Trujillo 4; SP Alex Jeffries 4.
Records: SP 19-4; AGM 17-5-1