Game two of the regular season series between Kenai Central and Homer was headed toward another tie when fate delivered the host Kardinals a last-second opportunity.
Kenai senior striker Tomas Levy-Canedo scored in the last minute of regulation Thursday evening at Kenai Central High School to send the Kards to a 1-0 win over the Mariners in Peninsula Conference play.
It allowed the Kardinals to clinch the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, an accomplishment that head coach Shane Lopez said affords Kenai a lot of breathing room in their efforts to snag a fifth straight state appearance.
“That’s always big,” Lopez said. “It’s always nice to be the one seed going into the tournament. You get the winner of the four and five, and those guys have a game the day before. It’s nice not having to battle SoHi and Homer that first day.”
Kenai finished its regular season with a 6-0-1 conference mark, and only have Southeast school Thunder Mountain left to play Saturday at home.
Meanwhile, Homer dropped to 3-2-1 in conference with Thunder Mountain and Soldotna left to play. The Saturday match with SoHi could decide the No. 2 and 3 seeds for the tournament.
Levy-Canedo received a through ball from a teammate — he credited midfielder Damien Redder — and raced to the goal box with a Homer defender before flicking the ball by Mariners goalkeeper Clayton Beachy to finally break the deadlock.
“This is our last chance,” Levy-Canedo said about his thought process. “Just give it a kick and hope it goes in.”
Mariners head coach Warren Waldorf said the loss doesn’t do Homer any favors in terms of tournament seeding, but he envisioned a semifinal matchup with Soldotna for a second straight year anyway.
“It doesn’t really matter now if we go two or three, because we’ll be playing SoHi,” Waldorf said. “We’ll do the same game we did last year with SoHi, where it went to PKs.
“(Kenai) basically punched their ticket to state today.”
Kenai and Homer played to a 1-all tie April 16 in Homer, and after 79 minutes of tight action Thursday in Kenai, nothing more had been done to decide which team was better. Between the two highly competitive squads, nearly 2 hours, 40 minutes, of game time had resulted in deadlock.
“The game was kind of scaring us, we didn’t want to tie,” Levy-Canedo said. “It was an intense game. Zero-zero all the way through. Homer played really well, really good defense.”
Homer commanded ball possession for a stretch of time in the second half, putting shots on net that just sailed past the crossbar, including one that rang off the pipe, and others that were batted away by Kenai goalkeeper Braedon Pitsch.
Finally, in the 80th minute, the Kenai midfield sent a through ball to Levy-Canedo, who found himself with open space and a step on his Homer defender. His goal resulted in a hearty celebration from the Kenai bench as their hard efforts paid off.
“Eventually something was going to go in,” Waldorf said. “It is what it is. They got a goal. We lost.”
When asked about the perennially close competition with Waldorf’s Mariners teams, Lopez said the high energy and talent is welcome as good competition raises the level of play from everyone.
“It’s a good team, good competition and we’re glad to have them,” Lopez said. “We’re glad the peninsula is strong and it’s part of what’s helped us to contend at state in the past. The stronger soccer programs that are here will help all of us.”
Homer girls 1, Kenai 0
Homer’s Laura Inama netted the lone goal in Thursday night’s varsity girls soccer game between Homer and Kenai Central High School, propelling the Lady Mariners to the top spot in the Peninsula Conference.
Scored late in the first half on an assist from Eve Brau, Inama’s goal brought Homer to 4-0-2 in the conference so far this season. The loss dropped Kenai to 4-1-2. The Kardinals have no more games against fellow conference teams scheduled for this season.
Homer has one last conference matchup to go against Soldotna on May 11.
“It’s very nice to be able to come out of here with a win today,” said Homer head coach Mike Tozzo. “It was big for conference standings, for region standings, and ultimately (for) state seeding. … Our goal today was to be the aggressor and be first to the … ball, and we did a good job of doing that.”
Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen noted that his team entered the game with several injuries and some illness affecting players.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” he said. “We had a bunch of ailing kids and kids that were hurt. And we were hoping that we could generate a little more energy, but I think that Homer came out in that first half with a little more energy than we did.”
Verkuilen said the Kardinals had their moments and chances in the second half, but just weren’t able to pull off the necessary shot.
While the Mariners didn’t necessarily have a strong passing game Thursday, Tozzo said their large accomplishment was keeping Kenai’s momentum to a minimum.
“We kept our shape as a team on the field, from the front line to the back line,” he said. “We didn’t allow them (Kenai) to do anything. We didn’t allow Kenai to like, get their touches and turn and shoot. They’ve got really good shooters on that team. That’s a really good team and a really well coached team.”
The Homer boys and girls varsity teams will celebrate senior night tomorrow, Friday, while hosting Thunder Mountain from Southeast.
Soldotna girls 2, Thunder Mountain 1
The host Stars took a 2-0 lead after the first half and held on in windy conditions for the nonconference victory.
Soldotna, which also defeated the Falcons 3-0 on April 27, moves to 10-5-2 overall.
The first-half goals came from Journey Miller, assisted by Caleigh Glassmaker, in the 27th minute and Rhys Cannava, assisted by Kortney Birch, in the 35th minute.
Thunder Mountain then scored shortly into the second half.
“Both teams had opportunities, they just couldn’t finish,” Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said.
Love said the wind normally doesn’t affect his team, but it may have Thursday.
“I think we’re still having some issues with not moving,” Love said. “We were very comfortable with where we were positionwise and they were beating us to the ball more than they should have been.”
Thunder Mountain boys 5, Soldotna 0
The visiting Falcons notched a nonconference victory over the Stars on Thursday. Soldotna fell to 10-7-0 overall.
Nikiski girls 9, Voznesenka 0
The host Bulldogs improved to 3-6-2 overall and 3-6-0 in the Peninsula Conference with the victory.
Tika Zimmerman, American Jeffreys and Rylee Ellis each had a pair of goals for the Bulldogs, while Tawnisha Freeman, Lillian Carstens and Kiki Suporate also added tallies.
Abby Bystedt and Flavie Antoniotti each did a half in goal to team for the shutout. Nikiski coach Linda Zimmerman said Bystedt spent time at forward.
“It’s important that goalies realize what a different position feels like,” Zimmerman said.
The coach and her players agreed that Voznesenka continues to look better and better as a soccer team, even though the Cougars had just 11 players Thursday.
“I’m really proud of the girls for playing together as a team and showing such sportsmanship,” Zimmerman said. “The field was slippery, so they were helping the Voznesenka girls up and encouraging them.
“They’re just a great bunch of girls. They’re very caring and kind.”