Only one of the four games had a dramatic finish Friday at the Peninsula Conference soccer tournament at Homer High School, but that one game had more than enough drama to make up for the other three.
The Homer girls topped Kenai 4-3 on penalty kicks in the girls semifinal to clinch their first state berth since 2007. The Kardinals failed to wrap up their sixth straight berth, and seventh in eight years, but still have a good shot at getting an at-large berth from the Alaska School Activities Association.
In the conference semifinals last season, Kenai broke Homer’s heart with a 1-0 victory. Friday, Homer was able to turn the tables after a close season series between the two teams — they tied at 0 on April 16 and Homer notched a 1-0 victory on May 9.
Friday, both teams did not score in the first half, second half or overtime, forcing penalty kicks on keepers Kailey Hamilton of Kenai and Ali McCarron of Homer.
The first round of penalty kicks was best of five. Olivia Brewer, Taylor Pierce and Julia Hanson scored for Kenai, while Brenna McCarron, Eve Brau and Jessica Sonnen scored for Homer. That set up a sudden-death round, with Kenai’s Alyssa Bucho missing and Homer’s Paige Jones connecting to send Homer to the championship.
The championship opponent is Soldotna. The Stars are the defending conference champions and now have seven state berths in the last nine years after topping Nikiski 11-0 in the other semifinal.
Freshman Rhys Cannava had an incredible debut at the tournament, scoring four goals in the first half. Assists on two of the goals went to Meijan Leaf and Cameron Blackwell. Sierra Kuntz and Ryann Cannava, assisted by Journey Miller, also scored in the first half.
“We were outmatched by SoHi,” Nikiski coach Linda Zimmerman said. “We went out playing flat in the first half, then it’s hard to recover from three or four goals. It knocked the wind out of our sails.”
In the second half, Leaf added a pair of tallies, while Blackwell, Drysta Crosby-Schneider and Mykenna Foster also found the back of the net. Katie Delker and Margarida Mendoca split the shutout for Soldotna.
The game knocked Nikiski into a third-place clash with Kenai.
On the boys side of the bracket, Kenai and Homer would meet for the second straight year for the conference title, while Soldotna and Nikiski boys would meet for third place.
The Kardinals defeated Nikiski 3-0 to earn a fifth straight state berth.
Damien Redder scored in the eighth minute of the first half for Kenai, but the Bulldogs were able to keep it 1-0 at the half. In the sixth minute of the second half, Travis McKinley scored for the Kardinals, while Nate Beiser added the third goal in the ninth minute of the second half.
Nikiski coach Harrison Deveer said the first two goals came on set pieces, with the second one being a penalty kick.
“We played good, but we knew going in that we’d have to play great to beat Kenai,” Deveer said.
The coach added that Jace Kornstad and Justin Harris did a great job in the defensive midfield.
“The guys played well and had a lot of the run of play,” Kenai coach Shane Lopez said. “Damien is excellent at set pieces and saw the gap between the wall and the net and was able to bend it around.”
The Homer boys notched a 6-1 victory over Soldotna to clinch a sixth state berth in eight years. This is the third straight year that Homer defeated Soldotna in a game in which a state berth was up for grabs, though the Stars still have a shot at an at-large bid.
The Stars were able to keep the game close until Phinny Weston got going in the second half. In the first half, Daniel Reutov, Homer’s leading scorer, struck in the 14th minute but, shortly after, Reutov was injured and missed the rest of the game. With one minute to play in the first half, Hunter Woodward, on a corner kick from Maleda Denbrock, tied the game.
“We played an amazing first half, but we came out and laid an egg in the second half,” Soldotna assistant Erik Dolphin said.
Weston would score four times in the first 29 minutes of the second half to put the Mariners in control. Parker Lowney had a pair of assists on the goals, while Tanner Reid also added an assist. Eyoab Knapp, assisted by Weston, finished the scoring for the Mariners.
Dolphin said Colton Sorhus was put in goal so Woodward could move out and make a difference in the field, and Sorhus did a great job with the switch. He said SoHi’s defense just gave Homer too many great scoring opportunities.