Soldotna senior Kaleb Swank dribbles around a West Anchorage defender Friday, April 5, 2019, at Soldotna's Justin Maile Field. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

It’s Kenai-Juneau girls, SoHi-Juneau boys for Division II state soccer titles

The Kenai Central and Juneau-Douglas: Kale girls, and Soldotna and Juneau boys, will play for the Division II state soccer titles Saturday at Wasilla High School.

The Kardinals (16-2-1 overall), the No. 2 seed, defeated the No. 3 Stars (13-3-2) 2-1 on penalty kicks to reach the final for the second-straight season.

Last season, Kenai lost in the state final to Soldotna on — you guessed it — penalty kicks.

The top-seeded Crimson Bears reached the final by knocking off No. 4 Homer (9-5-3) 5-0. The championship is at 1:30 p.m.

Homer and Soldotna play for third place at 9:45 a.m. at Colony High School.

The top-seeded Soldotna boys (17-0-1) defeated No. 4 Palmer 4-3 to reach the final at 11:30 a.m. The Stars will be looking for their first state title while playing in their third championship game in four years.

Juneau, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 3 Ketchikan 2-1 to reach the final.

In the fourth-place bracket, No. 5 Kenai (10-6-1) defeated No. 8 Kodiak 5-0 to reach the fourth-place game. No. 7 Homer (7-8-1) fell to No. 6 North Pole 1-0 on penalty kicks. The Patriots and Kardinals play for fourth place at 8 a.m. at Colony.

Kenai 2, Soldotna 1, PK

It was another classic in the intense rivalry.

In the 30th minute, Jillian Duncan put the Stars up 1-0 when she got a foot on a ball bouncing around the box after a corner kick.

Early in the second half, Kate Wisnewski equalized for the Kardinals when she connected on a free kick from 25 yards out.

From there, the teams played through the 80th minute, and through two 10-minute overtime periods, and through two 5-minute overtime periods, with no further scoring.

In the shootout, Maddie Malone stopped all three of Soldotna’s penalty kicks. Sarah Baisden, Grace Beiser and Kylee Verkuilen scored for Kenai.

Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen said his team always works a lot on penalty kicks, but did an even deeper dive this year knowing a moment like Friday was coming.

“We knew who was going to take them and what side they were going to,” Verkuilen said of his team.

Soldotna coach Jimmy Love also said his team did extensive work preparing for a shootout.

“It just wasn’t our turn,” Love said. “It wasn’t our time this time. That’s how the ball bounces.”

Love said a shootout is always a tough way to decide a game, but he also said it’s necessary because both teams could have played for hours.

“It was a great battle,” coach Verkuilen said. “Both teams had possession. Both teams had great shots. There were momentum swings.

“It was truly a game that was like a championship game.”

Love also said both goalies made the saves they had to make.

The Soldotna coach was happy with the way his team played, particularly the way SoHi kept the ball on the ground in the first half. He said the Stars got away from that style a bit in the second half.

Coach Verkuilen said Malone was great in net and Seanna Swanson stood out at sweeper, but he really felt the story of the game was how well all the players on both teams played.

“It was one of those games that was just a grinder,” he said. “There wasn’t any one person that took over the game on either side. It was back and forth.”

Verkuilen said playing in the title game after such a tough semifinal will not be easy.

“They’re smart kids and they’re battlers,” he said of his squad. “For sure, playing 30 more minutes under high stress is a factor.

“Will that factor be enough?”

Love also must get his team up to face Homer, like Kenai, a team the Stars have seen a lot this season.

“We would much rather see anybody other than the two teams we played all year,” he said. “We need to pull our stuff together and get ready for another game.”

Soldotna boys 4, Palmer 3

Soldotna head coach Erik Dolphin said this was the craziest soccer game he’s ever been a part of.

“It’s the most gutsy performance I’ve ever seen,” Dolphin said. “It’s one for the SoHi history books.”

The game got off to a quick start, with Simon Willets scoring on a Nuno Venturi assist in the first 20 seconds of the game.

Palmer tied it up in the 10th minute, but Daniel Heath put the Stars up 2-1 in the 17th minute.

Shortly after, Soldotna sweeper Collin Peck was shown a red card for an intentional hand ball in the box, with Palmer burying the penalty kick for a 2-all game.

The red card is controversial. Dolphin said Peck used his head. Dolphin said the sideline official told the coach he saw it the same way, but after a conference with the head referee, the red card stood.

That meant Soldotna had to play the rest of the game with 10 players. It also means SoHi will most likely be without Peck in the championship game. Dolphin has appealed the red card, but he doubts it will be overturned for the title game.

“All I can say is I’m incredibly proud of my guys,” Dolphin said. “We were down to 10 men the whole second half and the rest of the first half, and they were still able to come out with a win.”

Nuno Venturi put Soldotna up 3-2, but Palmer tied it at 3 in the 75th minute.

In the 76th minute, Palmer had an intentional hand ball in the box, leading to a penalty kick and red card. Willets scored the game-winner on a penalty kick.

Dolphin said there was about 16 minutes added to the end of the game due to all the injuries and cards that took place in the second half.

The coach said Willets was huge under pressure, and Zac Buckbee stepped up to fill Peck’s role. Defenders Owen Buckbee and Jace O’Reagan also adjusted.

Dolphin was quick to say that everybody played really well, though. He said there would have been no way to win short-handed otherwise.

“We’ve got to wake up and play at 11:30 a.m.,” Dolphin said. “We’ve got to come back with quick focus and concentration.”

Juneau girls 5, Homer 0

The Crimson Bears scored two goals in the first half and three in the second to keep the Mariners from the final.

“We actually didn’t play that bad,” Homer head coach Mike Tozzo said. “We didn’t quite put enough pressure on their shooters.

“When you give good players some space, generally as a rule, they make you pay.”

Tozzo said his squad came into the tournament down two defenders. Forward Talia Weisser left the game against Juneau in the second half and will not play against Soldotna. Forward Katelyn Marroquin also will not be able to play due to religious reasons.

“Tomorrow, we’ll have to shift some people around and make adjustments,” Tozzo said. “It’ll be tough to beat SoHi. We haven’t beat them, we’ve just tied them.

“The girls are eager to try and end the season with a win over SoHi.”

Kenai boys 5, Kodiak 0

Bradley Morrison had a big day for the Kardinals, sharing in the shutout in net, scoring a goal and getting the player of the game.

Carson Grimm, Ryker Dykema, Zane James and Carter Felchle also found the back of the net for the Kards, while Zach Armstrong shared the shutout.

North Pole boys 1, Homer 0, PK

Because the game was in the fourth-place bracket, it went straight to a shootout after 80 minutes of regulation.

Walden Kraszeski earned the shutout in regulation for the Mariners.

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