After last weekend’s marathon region semifinal against Soldotna left them gassed the next day against Kenai Central, the Homer boys knew they had to make quick work of their first opponent this weekend at the state tournament.
The Mariners did their best in a 5-1 quarterfinal win Thursday afternoon over Grace Christian at a sunny Eagle River High School, advancing them to a semifinal clash with Kenai today at 9 a.m. in the Division II state soccer tournament.
“We were trying to conserve as much energy as we could,” said head coach Warren Waldorf. “We have to play tomorrow at 9 a.m. That’s not much turnaround time.”
Homer sophomore Daniel Reutov helped the Mariners by scoring twice in the first 19 minutes.
“It’s just our coaching,” Reutov replied when asked how Homer started so fast. “In fact (Waldorf) told me to come in from the opposite side, we had the ball on the other side, and I came in unmarked.”
Reutov opened the scoring eight minutes in with a tap into the net after Grace goalkeeper Eliot Merriner deflected a shot directly in front of Reutov, who had a wide open goal staring back at him.
Reutov made it 2-0 Homer just 11 minutes later when he was able to shake off a Grizzlies defender and find space in the goal box, and converted the cross from the left corner.
The two strikes came amid several waves of Homer pressure up front, as the Mariners were able to find space in the middle to challenge the Grizzlies defense.
Simon Dye, Tom Gorman and Timothy Blakely also scored a goal each to secure the victory. Junior Tucker Weston played well in goal with five saves on six scoring opportunities.
With a two-goal lead for the final 60 minutes of game time, Homer was able to substitute a variety of starting players out, allowing their stars to rest up for Friday’s semifinal against Kenai.
Fifth-seeded Homer has proven it can keep up with the powerhouse Kenai boys when on fresh legs, as a 1-all draw from May 8 can attest, but last weekend at the Peninsula Conference tournament, the Mariners squeezed every last drop of energy out in a 100-minute thriller against SoHi, ultimately prevailing 6-5 in penalty kicks.
The monster effort left the Mariners weary against Kenai in the tournament final, which they lost 3-0.
As the top seed in this weekend’s state tournament, Kenai earned a first-day bye, leaving the Kards with Thursday off, while Homer played a full 80 minutes.
“We got up early this morning, talked about team energy, and just talked about team chemistry,” Reutov said. “Tonight we’ll rest, eat, drink lots of water and pretty much get in the mind-set for Kenai.”
Dye’s goal in the 27th minute put Homer up 3-0 at the half, but Grace refused to go quietly. The Grizzlies countered in the 57th minute of the second half when Paul Kopp launched a long strike from the left wing that rattled off the Homer crossbar for a Grace goal, cutting the lead to 3-1.
If the Mariners felt any trepidation after that response, they didn’t show it. Gorman struck back in the 76th minute with an assist from Phinny Weston, a goal that essentially iced the victory. Blakely added the cherry on top in the second minute of stoppage time to cap the game.