Soldotna’s Journey Miller and Kenai Central’s Zack Tuttle scored the only goals Tuesday at Kenai Central as the Stars girls and Kardinals boys picked up Peninsula Conference soccer victories.
In the girls game, Miller notched a hat trick for a 3-0 victory that moved the Stars to 4-1-2 overall and 3-0-1 in the conference. The Kardinals fell to 1-3-1 in the league and 1-4-1 overall.
In the boys game, Tuttle scored twice in the last 11 minutes of the game as the Kardinals won 2-0 to move to 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the league. The Stars fell to 4-5 overall.
Miller got the scoring started early when she cut into the middle and boomed the ball into the back of the net in just the sixth minute of the game. Hannah Wells had gotten the ball to Ryann Cannava, who fed Miller. The goal was huge because Soldotna was playing into a wind that was knocking down corner flags.
“It definitely felt awesome,” Miller said. “It was a momentum change.”
Coach Jimmy Love was not happy with how his team played after taking the early lead though. Meanwhile, Kenai Central coach Dan Verkuilen was much happier with his team’s play Tuesday than in a 3-0 loss to SoHi earlier in the season.
“It was much better than the first time we played them,” Verkuilen said. “The girls were much more aggressive to the ball.”
The coach added that the defense did a good job keeping Soldotna from getting point-blank chances, but Miller’s three shots from far out were just too good.
In the sixth and eighth minutes of the second half, Miller bombed two more into the back of the net that left Kenai goalie Kailey Hamilton no chance. Miller has converted to forward from midfield this season, but is accustomed to scoring goals.
“All the goals were right outside the 18,” she said after leaving the game midway through the second half after a kick to the shin. “I score a lot like that, actually.”
Love pointed out that Miller was able to get those opportunities because the team did such a good job moving the ball around. In the second half, Love said his squad did a good job using the wind, spreading out and passing the ball.
Kenai’s problem continues to be scoring goals, but Verkuilen, while noting it is hard to groom goal scorers, said he saw progress. The coach said Damaris Severson and Taylor Pierce were strong on defense, while Liz Hanson did a good job mixing it up on offense.
Maddie Kindred had the shutout in net for Soldotna.
Kenai boys 2, Soldotna 0
Despite a four-year career filled with goals, and big goals at that, Tuttle was not the scoring sensation getting all the attention for most of Tuesday’s game. That attention went to Soldotna freshman Josh Hieber.
The Kardinals put together a game plan focused on keeping Hieber in check.
“We’re not scared of anybody, but you don’t win games by underestimating your opponent,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said.
Kenai put defender Titus Riddall on Hieber the entire game. Reemtsma said Hieber is a seasoned club soccer player, while Riddall is a multisport athlete, but Riddall did a great job of giving Hieber no space.
Another adjustment by Kenai was having central defenders and co-captains Braydon Goodman and Rykker Riddall stay back farther than they normally do. Reemtsma said Kenai could not risk the ball getting played behind the defense because Hieber is so fast.
The final piece of the puzzle fell to co-captain Kevin Ramos. Because Rykker Riddall and Goodman were staying back, Soldotna had a ton of possession in Kenai’s end. But Ramos played a lead role in making sure the Stars didn’t have time to serve up perfect balls by constantly applying on-ball pressure.
“He has an incredible motor,” Reemtsma said.
The last thing Kenai did to stop Hieber is to have incredible athletes like the long, quick and fast Luke Beiser. When Hieber broke in behind the Kenai defense in the second half of a scoreless game, Beiser recovered to somehow block a shot that had “goal” written all over it.
“He’s an unsung hero,” Reemtsma said of Beiser. “There were a lot of unsung heroes.”
The Stars went against the wind in the first half. Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said players like Sam McElroy, Gavin Goggia and Ethan Bott played a key role in keeping the game scoreless.
But even when the Kardinals went against the wind in the second half, the defense held long enough for Tuttle to create his usual magic.
With 11 minutes left, Travis Verkuilen won the ball in the air and got it up to Tuttle for a goal. Then 10 minutes later, Riley McKee got the ball to Tuttle, and he beat one defender before scoring to ice the game.
“He is a force of nature,” Reemtsma said of Tuttle. “Give him enough time, and he’ll break down the defense.”