As hard as they tried, the Kenai Central girls could never find the back of the net Saturday afternoon against Grace Christian, even when the ball was past the Grizzlies’ goalie.
What turned out to be a 1-0 Northern Lights Conference win for Grace could have been an easy victory for the Kardinals, but missed opportunities and close shots held Kenai back right through the final seconds at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
“We definitely outplayed them, we probably had the ball like 38 out of 40 minutes in the first half,” said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. “But when you let people hang on and they get a goal, it’s frustrating.”
After a first half that saw Kenai control possession throughout, the score remained zero for both teams.
The Grizzlies struck first in the second half with Grace captain Katrina Wood converting a corner kick into a goal in the 47th minute. Wood’s kick looked to have caught a well-timed crosswind, as it curved to the right and just past Kenai goalkeeper Alli Steinbeck.
“We just needed a little more anticipation in front of the goal,” Verkuilen said.
Adding to the frustration of not being able to score was the fact that it was Grace that ended Kenai’s season in 2013 at the conference tournament third-place game. Verkuilen said only a few of the players from this year’s squad were on last year’s team and remember that, but the memory was still there.
“We got to use that as a bit of motivation,” Verkuilen said. “I’d say they kind of owe us one, but Grace always come out with a bunch of scrappy players and they played a hard game.”
As the minutes wore on, Kenai continued to press and find chances, but still could not convert.
In the 65th minute, Kenai midfielder Cori Holmes found space in the left corner but was taken down by a Grace defender, injuring her leg in the process. Holmes had to be carried off the field by coaches, and Verkuilen later said she could be missing a few weeks from that injury.
The Kards had a free-kick opportunity in the 80th minute — the final minute of regulation play — that was taken by Heidi Perkins, but her kick to Hannah Drury just barely missed the mark.
After the head referee called for four minutes of stoppage time, it was now or never for Kenai. In the 82nd minute, Drury once again nearly had an equalizer off a corner kick, but Grace goalie Mary Hogan made the save.
But the most brutal moment of the game came in the waning seconds, when Lara Creighton found herself with a clear shot opportunity on the goal. Hogan ran towards Creighton to make a save, but misjudged where the ball was and Creighton managed to find herself behind the goalkeep and launched a shot toward the net.
However, at the last possible moment, Grace defender Hayley Hagen reached out her leg and knocked the ball out from the right goal post, just narrowly avoiding the sure equalizer.
“I thought she had a pretty good shot, it was just timing and everything,” Verkuilen said. “It was almost a little surreal, you expect it to go in, but no one saw (Hagen) coming.”
The loss leaves Kenai with a 2-2 season mark.
Kenai boys 3, Grace 0
The Kenai boys found some well-timed offense that propelled them to the shutout victory over the Grizzlies Saturday afternoon at Ed Hollier field in Kenai.
The Kards got goals from T.J. Wagoner, Nate Narlock and Austin Frederick, and the offensive output could have been higher with some better-timed shots.
“We had a lot of close opportunities to score against SoHi last week but just didn’t put any away,” said Kenai coach John Morton. “It was nice to score three today.”
Morton said his group was able to take advantage of a few weaknesses in Grace’s defensive line, and the speed and explosiveness of Kenai forwards Wagoner and Trevor Shirnberg proved to be a challenge.
“Beyond that, they were a little weak back there, so we definitely took advantage of it,” Morton said. “Our offense is always our strong suit. We have the ability to communicate well and our defense pulled together pretty well. It really just all came together today.”
The Kards enjoyed a 14-5 advantage on shots on goal over Grace, and took four corner-kick opportunities, compared to two for Grace.
“We played the ball to the outside and created crosses,” Morton said. “(Wagoner) specifically can outrun most people in the conference, or at least as fast as anyone.”
Kenai had their chances early and often. In the ninth minute, Jake Meyer found open space on the left side of the goalie box but misfired and sent the ball wide to the right of the net.
Two minutes later, Shirnberg pulled a similar maneuver, getting loose in front of the goal but missed wide to the left, and in the 14th minute, Wagoner squared up a free kick that nailed the crossbar above the hands of Grace’s goalie.
But Kenai’s efforts eventually paid off in the 29th minute when Wagoner received an assist from Shirnberg from the right corner of the goalie box and converted to score the opening goal of the game.
“I think our warmup today before the game was more energetic and more focused,” Morton said. “That helps because if you come out and play ten minutes of bad soccer and they score, it doesn’t work well.”
Kenai added to its lead with a goal in the 51st minute, as Narlock sent a long shot from about 20 yards out into the net to tally a goal. In the 70th minute, Frederick took a similar-looking shot off a rebound from a corner kick to add a third goal for Kenai. The win improved Kenai’s season mark to 2-1-1, while Grace dropped to 4-2 with the loss.