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The Laramie County Community College men’s soccer team celebrate Eric Thompson’s goal during the 40th minute of a 1-0 victory over Otero Junior College on Saturday at Laramie County Community College. Rhianna Gelhart/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A gritty effort and a quick-strike goal sent the Laramie County Community College men’s soccer team to the National Junior Athletic Association tournament for the third consecutive season.

Sophomore defensive midfielder Eric Thompson ran onto a loose ball and struck it through traffic to help the No. 4-ranked Golden Eagles to a 1-0 win over visiting Otero Junior College on Saturday afternoon.

“Otero deserves a lot of respect because they have a good defense and their goalie is phenomenal,” Thompson said. “He made some really great saves and we couldn’t finish the chances we had. We got the win, and that’s all that matters.”

The Eagles controlled possession and stressed Otero’s defense throughout the first half. Christian Nunez sent a ball into the penalty area off a corner kick. The ball bounced off players in the middle of the box, and a few players whiffed as they tried to clear it.

Thompson ran onto the ball and rifled a left-footed shot past Rattlers’ goalkeeper Daniel Ibarra to put LCCC up 1-0.

“A couple players missed it which ended up being a good thing for me,” Thompson said. “I took a swing at it with my left foot and got it to go.”

Thompson nearly had a similar goal in the second half, but Ibarra was able to parry the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick.

The Fort Collins, Colorado, product’s only other goal of the season came on a similar strike in LCCC’s season-opening win.

“We love the sophomore leadership he gives us,” Gibson said. “He knows when to go up and pull the trigger and when to go back and play defense.

“(Friday) he was trying to be a nice guy and asked me to get someone else some playing time. I had to tell him he has earned the time and that we needed his experience and leadership out there.”

The Eagles (15-1-1) had a goal taken off the board in the 73rd minute. Carlos Vargas beat a defender in the left side of the 18 and sent a shot to the far post. Abe Lopez slid onto the ball and appeared to put it past Ibarra, but the referees met briefly before saying the ball went just wide of the goal.

LCCC kept pressure on the Rattlers throughout, and Nunez had a hard shot clang off the left upright in the 79th.

The Eagles outshot Otero 18-2 overall and 8-1 on goal. The shutout was LCCC’s ninth of the season and fifth consecutive.

“The defense is doing a great job, and I’m very blessed to have those guys,” sophomore goalkeeper Declan Domyan said. “They do a good job of keeping things away from me, and I do my best to organize them and make sure they’ve got their man.

“They make my job a little bit easier.”

The match was physical with 25 combined fouls and seven combined yellow cards. It’s what the Eagles have come to expect from a strong program they have faced in the past three Region IX championship matches.

“We’ve met them in the finals all three years I’ve been here, so we have some history with them,” Thompson said. “We knew they were going to come out and play hard because they wanted revenge.

“They have a great team, and they came out hard and played really physically. Fortunately, we pulled out a win and are headed back to nationals.”

The NJCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament starts Nov. 15 in Tyler, Texas.

LCCC 1, OTERO 0

Halftime: 1-0.

Goal: LCCC, Thompson (Nunez), 40.

Shots: OJC 2, LCCC 18. Shots on goal: OJC 1, LCCC 8. Saves: OJC 7 (Ibarra); LCCC 1 (Domyan).

Corner kicks: OJC 3, LCCC 6. Offsides: OJC 2, LCCC 6. Fouls: OJC 13, LCCC 12. Yellow cards: OJC 3 (Samb, 13. Baeza, 69. Castillo, 72); LCCC 4 (Castruita, 20. Van Holland, 30. Lopez, 75. Barajas, 88).

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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