Adversity was the name of the game Thursday afternoon for the Kenai Central boys. Pelting hail, drenching rain and bone-chilling cold challenged the defending state runner-ups while the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears made life difficult for Kardinals goalkeeper Tristan Landry, who had a separate bone to pick with the turf at Eagle River High School.
“Our team as a whole just doesn’t play that well on this field,” Landry said. “Getting off this pitch was a goal today.”
Landry got his wish as the Kenai boys moved on to the state semifinals courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Juneau. The win set Kenai up with a 2 p.m. semifinal clash with undefeated West Valley, 3-0 winners over Homer on Thursday.
Today’s semi will shift to Service High School, so Landry will have nothing else to worry about from here on out, except for two more high-profile games.
“There’s a lot of unlucky things that happen on this field, so we’re trying to stay off of it as much as possible,” he said.
Juneau beat Kenai in the tournament third-place game two years ago on the same field, so Landry has reason to not like the Eagle River turf, but the Kards played well enough Thursday to keep their hopes alive at a state championship.
Junior midfielder Luke Beiser scored the lone goal of the game in the 29th minute on a well-placed throw-in from junior Zack Tuttle near the goal box. Beiser took advantage of his 6-foot-4 frame to get his head on the ball first and directed it into Juneau’s netting.
“I think in a normal year, I don’t think (Juneau) is a five-seed,” said Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma, crediting the Crimson Bears’ oppressive offense. “There were times they were passing the ball through us, and we were a bit on our heels.
“But, these guys came in with a lot of confidence to do this.”
The win was Kenai’s 17th straight win this year, dating back to their season-opening loss to South Anchorage.
Reemtsma credited Landry’s stifling playing in goal for helping the team survive Juneau’s pressing attack. The senior goalie had to ward off several close calls throughout the game, highlighted by a shot off the left post in the third minute, a two-handed block in the 24th and a miraculous stop in the 27th on a head-to-head challenge by Juneau’s J.J. Mosher, who tracked down a through ball from the midfield and ran unopposed towards Landry. Mosher’s shot was well-placed, but Landry anticipated the strike perfectly to keep the game tied.
Another close call came midway through the second half on a free kick taken by Juneau’s Ben Undurraga, whose strike glanced off the cross bar.
Through it all, Landry preserved the shutout to keep Kenai on its march to the state championship, which it hopes to gain with a Friday semifinal win over an undefeated West Valley squad.
West Valley boys 3, Homer 0
The Mariners saw their title hopes dashed with a shutout at the hands of a skillful Wolfpack team.
Homer will begin its chase of the tournament’s fourth-place honors today with a 2 p.m. consolation semifinal with Juneau at Eagle River High School. The loser will see its season end on the spot.
Homer head coach Warren Waldorf made no bones about the team’s chances against one of the state’s top contenders.
“I didn’t have any hopes,” he said. “We played (West Valley) back in 2009, and I had the same images running through my head today that I had back then. They’re athletic, they’re quick, they connect passes well.”
Waldorf said the reason for his uncertainty for his team’s future was in part due to the escalating number of injuries that sidelines his players, including a late slip by Charles Rohr that saw the senior attacker come up limping.
“At one time I had five JV players out there, and four to five freshmen,” Waldorf said.
West Valley opened the scoring with a goal by Cole Thomas eight minutes in, then pushed its lead to 2-0 late in the first half with a strike from Drew Rizk, who was set up by Thomas in the 39th minute.
The Wolfpack rounded out the scoring in the 58th minute with an assist from Elijah Nelson that found its way to Seth Thomas for the goal.