One year ago, the emerging Kenai Central boys soccer team picked up the program’s inaugural state tournament victory.
Thursday at Eagle River High School, the Kardinals added to that victory tally with the group’s second state win, a 2-1 quarterfinal triumph over the Colony Knights, advancing the Kards to a state semifinal date with Service today at 6 p.m. The winner moves on to Saturday’s championship game, a feat which would be another first for Kenai.
“We have a shot at a title,” said Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma said. “Couldn’t be happier.”
Sophomore Zack Tuttle provided the go-ahead winner in the 57th minute, getting an assist from fellow sophomore midfielder Luke Beiser just minutes after Colony had tied the game at a goal apiece.
Draiden McMinn opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a chip across the goal box from Tuttle, and in goal for Kenai, Tristan Landry stopped all but one, including a fingertip save that glanced off the crossbar in the second half that even had Reemtsma in awe.
“That was the save of the century,” Reemtsma said. “I was already trying to figure out what to tell the guys to lift their spirits.”
Colony forward Ben Sande — the Northern Lights Conference boys season MVP — scored in the 52nd minute for the Knights. After losing to Kenai 3-1 in last Saturday’s NLC championship game, the Knights were out to avenge their loss.
“We knew they’d be coming in with everything to play for after their loss,” Reemtsma said. “But we had no doubts, and we wanted to prove it again. We’re the (region) champs.”
Reemtsma praised the work of his midfield, particularly sophomore Kevin Ramos and senior captain Ean Atchley. Ramos was tasked with defending Colony’s lethal midfielder Alex Valdez.
“I’m so proud of this kid,” Reemtsma said about Ramos. “Kevin shut down their best midfield players.”
Ramos had to be taken off the field for a while in the second half with an injury to his arm.
“The heart our center (midfielders) showed running all game like that … just, wow,” Reemtsma said.
After their equalizer, the Knights began pressing further, which left them in a vulnerable spot for Kenai to produce a counterattack.
That’s exactly what Beiser and Tuttle were able to produce when the Kards needed it the most.
West Anchorage boys 3, Soldotna 1
The Stars fell victim to a late penalty kick by the West Eagles and were denied a chance to advance Thursday through the state tournament at Eagle River High School.
After Soldotna lost 3-0 to West in the regular season, coach Darryl Byerley was pleased to see the improvement of his team in a second meeting between the two sides, one in which Soldotna competed fiercely with the Eagles.
“We belonged on the field,” said a disappointed Byerley. “I knew they belonged, and I just feel bad for the boys.”
SoHi dropped into the tournament consolation bracket with the loss, starting with a 2 p.m. matchup with Juneau today at Eagle River. The Crimson Bears lost Thursday in penalty kicks to South Anchorage.
Unofficially, West outshot SoHi 13-3, but the midfield play was much more even. The Eagles finally broke through in the 33rd minute with a shot by Morgan Smith chipped up over SoHi goalkeeper Blake Jones that resulted in a 1-0 lead.
However, Timmy Smithwick equalized just before the halftime whistle sounded for a tie game at the break. Smithwick collected a ball that rebounded off the West goalkeeper and had trickled to the left side of the box and scored.
The Stars launched into the second half with gusto and challenged West for some time, but with a mere six minutes to play in regulation, the Stars were charged with a push in the goal box and West was given a penalty kick. Greyson Adams took the shot and converted for a 2-1 lead.
Smith added an insurance goal for West in the first minute of stoppage time to ice the win.
“We gave them a game, and we had good possession, and it was a game with ebbs and flows,” Byerley said, who added that the only thing left to do the remainder of the tournament is win out.