RIO RANCHO — For the second year in a row, the Cleveland High School girls soccer team will play for all the marbles.
In a Class 5A semifinal game played Wednesday evening at Cleveland, two goals by senior Sienna Salazar and one from fellow senior Alexus Guillen avenged No. 1 Cleveland’s championship loss to the Eagles last season and advanced them into the Class 5A title game for the second year in a row.
The championship game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at the University of New Mexico soccer complex, just east of University Stadium.
The Storm (21-1), racking up their fifth shutout in a row and 11th of the season, will meet No. 2 La Cueva (19-2-1), which beat the Storm in their first championship game appearance in 2017.
Last season, Cleveland ended the Bears’ season in the quarterfinals. The teams have not met this season.
Salazar’s unassisted goal in the game’s 18th minute proved to be the only goal CHS would need, as it won for the 39th time in its last 43 games.
She made it 2-0 in the second minute of the second half, with an assist going to Guillen. In the 55th minute, Guillen made it 3-0, off a great feed from Taylor Williamson.
Of her first tally, which came off a stop and carom off EHS goalkeeper Caitlin Sanchez, Salazar said, “It felt like it was an eternity, that ball coming to me.
“I was so scared. But I told myself, ‘Don’t put it over. Don’t put it over.’ And I didn’t put it over.”
Because the Storm had beaten Eldorado earlier this season — 2-1 in Metro pool play — she said the pressure was off.
“We came out and played really well tonight,” is how she summed it up. “We haven’t played La Cueva, so I’m excited. It’ll be fun.”
The Storm were relentless throughout the game, with sophomore goalkeeper Madison Johnson rarely challenged by the No. 4 Eagles (16-5).
She finished with five saves for the game, with two of the latter ones routine chest-high catches.
“This game, we played the way we like to play,” CHS coach Greg Rusk said. “We attacked in multiple different ways. We played great team defense, starting with our forward line. … It was really that team effort — not a single person went out there to win it by themselves.
“La Cueva has an unbelievable tradition, and they are always ready in the state tournament,” said Rusk, a former coach of the Lady Bears.