In a matter of seconds, with their fate hanging in the balance, senior forward Heidi Perkins breathed new life into the state hopes of the Kenai Central girls soccer team Thursday afternoon at Eagle River High School.
In a state tournament quarterfinal matchup between Kenai and Juneau-Douglas under sun-soaked skies, the Kardinals found themselves trailing on two separate occasions. With five minutes to go in regulation and Kenai behind 2-1, Perkins settled the ball in the left corner and unleashed a long blast that incredibly glanced off the crossbar and bounced down off the ground and into the netting, tying things up late.
“Right now they need blood transfusions with water and food and all that good stuff,” joked Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “Each day is a new one, so we got to go and recover now.”
Ultimately, Kenai prevailed over Juneau after the always dreaded penalty kicks, outscoring the Crimson Bears 4-2 in the sudden death format to win and advance into today’s state semifinal round against West Valley at 1 p.m. at Bartlett. The Wolfpack defeated Wasilla 1-0 Thursday to set up the meeting with Kenai.
On a day that hounded players with relentless heat, the Kards twice found themselves in a one-goal deficit, starting 14 minutes into the game when midfielder Amber White converted a penalty kick following a collision with Kenai defender Kylie Morse.
Morse’s younger sister, Samantha, scored an equalizer nine minutes later with a touch on the ball after Juneau goalkeeper Keely Ewing mistimed the bounce on a strike from Jacy Rouse.
Juneau took the lead for the second time with a through ball to sophomore midfielder Georgia Robinson in the 67th minute of the second half that resulted in a long range strike that made its way past Kenai goalie Alli Steinbeck.
After Perkins tied it up again with her jaw-dropping goal in the 75th minute, the game was forced into overtime, composed of two 10-minute periods, which was followed by two five-minute periods of sudden death play.
When the extra 30 minutes of action wasn’t enough, the game went to the most nerve-wracking format of all — penalty kicks.
All four Kenai strikers scored, starting with Cori Holmes and continuing with Perkins, Mikaela Pitsch and Cassie Holmes. Juneau scored on its first two opportunities with Gaea Turman and White on the line, but missed its second two chances, with the final kick being blocked by Steinbeck.
“You could tell everybody was giving what they had, but it wasn’t the normal energy level,” Verkuilen said. “That was 110 minutes of play in this heat, and some of those girls don’t get a lot of time off.”
Perkins was presented with Player of the Game honors, while Holmes and Pitsch were given Good Sportsmanship awards.
Service girls 2, Soldotna 0
The Soldotna girls saw their chances at a state title go down the drain early with a shutout loss to the Cougars at Bartlett.
After staving off all Service attacks in the first half while also creating a few opportunities of their own en route to a scoreless halftime, the Stars finally cracked in the opening minutes of the second half, allowing a pair of goals before 10 minutes were up.
The Stars will face the Dimond Lynx today at Eagle River at 5 p.m.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love expressed his disappointment for dropping out of the running on the opening day of the tournament, but added he was still proud of his team.
“I’m bummed,” Love said. “We always want to win, we want to go into that semifinal.
“But beyond that, one of the things we were struggling with was playing to our potential.”
Service coach Mark Cascolan, whose Cougars team is quite familiar with the South Anchorage squad that they will face today in the semifinals, said it was a complete team effort.
“They faced some adversity in the first half, but we kept our calm and knew if we worked hard enough, that goal was gonna come,” Cascolan said. “Winning the way we did was positive, but now we need to look forward to our next match, and it’s a new obstacle.”
Even with the loss, Love said he thought his team played one of its best games of the year.
“We just came out on the losing end,” Love said. “And I can’t fault them, they played their hearts out.”
Service had several near misses in the first half, with shots going off the post, soaring above the crossbar and being stopped by the gloves of SoHi goalkeeper Maddie Kindred.
After coming up empty in the first half, it didn’t take the Cougars long to score in the second frame. Before two minutes were up, Service junior Siri Parker managed to beat out SoHi defender Alex Ashe on the left wing and deposited a deadly strike into the right shelf of the net.
About eight minutes later, Parker sent a cross from the left corner to Madasin Jennings, who took a one-touch tap on the ball that had Kindred crossed up. Jennings deftly directed the ball in the opposite corner of the net for a 2-0 Service lead.
If desperation began to creep into the minds of SoHi players, at least they had an excuse. After falling in last weekend’s region championship game to Kenai, Love said the Stars had completely wiped that memory from their mind, but the thought of being ousted was still alive and well.