WASILLA — After playing in a tight match against Wasilla, a 1-0 win over the Warriors, late in the regular season, Kenai Central expected Friday’s rematch to come down to bounces.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Kenai capitalized on a pair of Wasilla turnovers and earned a 2-1 win over the Warriors during the Northern Lights Conference semifinals at Wasilla High’s Veterans Memorial Field.
“Wasilla’s a great squad with incredible talent. It was going to be one of those games where something had to happen. And it did,” longtime Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen said after the match.
Abi Tuttle scored during the 12th minute and Cori Holmes found the back of the net during the 65th minute to help the Kardinals win the match, move into the NLC championship game and earn their first trip to the state tournament since 2012.
Verkuilen said overall team play is what stood out the most.
“I’m really proud of them for sticking together, and be willing to do whatever was needed whenever,” Verkuilen said. “A lot of kids played some unique positions. The sun was obviously a drainer. We knew if we trusted each other, kept fresh legs, we knew as a team, we could get those opportunities, those chances to do what we did.”
Wasilla head coach Patrick O’Neill said he also expected a close, tough contest.
“We made two mistakes, and they capitalized on both of them,” O’Neill said.
Alexa Starr scored Wasilla’s lone goal of the contest, ripping a shot high into the net during the 38th minute.
O’Neill said, considering the contrasting styles of play between the two teams, he’s proud of the way the Warriors continued to try to work within their system.
“We stuck to our guns. I’d rather lose playing the style we do, making an effort, attacking and playing as a team,” O’Neill said.
Soldotna girls 8, Homer 0
WASILLA — Kylee Wolfe scored four goals to lead Soldotna to an 8-0 rout of Homer on Friday afternoon during the NLC semifinals at Wasilla High.
With the win, Soldotna will face rival Kenai in the NLC title game and go to state for the sixth time in seven years.
Colony boys 3, Kenai 2
The Colony Knights have their sights set on winning the team’s 11th region title in program history. But Friday, the Kenai Kardinals were on the verge of knocking the Knights out of contention.
Colony needed a Kyle Bolam strike in extra time to slip past the upset-minded Kardinals 3-2 during the semifinal round.
“They came out ready to play,” Colony senior captain Ben Atkinson said of the Kardinals. “They definitely wanted it.”
Colony led 2-0 at halftime, but the Kardinals used a pair of TJ Wagoner goals to tie the game in the game in the second half. The Kardinals kept the game tied with the stellar play of goalkeeper Wren Norwood, and the defenders in front of him.
“They did a good job of capitalizing on chances when they had them, did a really good job of defending and they have a really quality keeper; probably one of the best in the state,” Atkinson said of the Kardinals.
Wagoner scored the first of his two goals in the 45th minute to cut Colony’s lead in half. Evan Atchley recorded an assist on the play.
In the 70th minute, Wagoner scored again to tie the game. Following a flurry of action in front of the Kenai net, the ball was pushed the other direction. Wagoner broke loose and lifted a shot high into the net.
Longtime Colony head coach Jeremy Johnson said the Kards came out in the second half ready to stun is squad.
“They knocked us down. They knocked us on our butt. We made a defensive mistake. They scored the goal, and they fed off that,” Johnson said.
Kenai head coach John Morton said Wagoner is the type of player capable of those match-changing plays.
“TJ, he’s just so quick,” Morton said. “He can read the ball so well.”
While Wagoner capitalized on his opportunities, Norwood and the Kardinals defense prevented the Knights from capitalizing on anything in the second half of regulation.
“You can’t take anything away from their goalkeeper. They blocked a lot of shots. I’ll give their defense credit for that. But there were three or four great saves by their goalkeeper,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted specifically a Norwood save on a shot by Colony’s Ben Sande late in the first half. Johnson said he felt if Sande is able to score that goal and push the Knights’ lead to three, things could have been different.
But Norwood made the saves, and the effort continued in the second half.
In the final minutes of regulation, shortly after Kenai knotted the game at 2, at least five different Colony Knights had legitimate scoring chances. Harrison Menard ripped a shot on net, and Norwood tipped it over the crossbar. Sande cracked a shot, but it was blocked by a defender. Atkinson had a header off a corner kick that went right over the crossbar.
“We were definitely frustrated. We had a lot of chances we didn’t capitalize on,” Atkinson said.
The senior captain said the Knights tried to be fueled by that frustration.
“We were getting angry at ourselves,” Atkinson said. “We were getting fired up, getting hungry for goals after having so many chances on net.”
Colony finally found its go-ahead score in the 91st minute. Chaz Stephens set up the play with a long throw-in that went into the box. After a quick scramble, Bolam bounced the ball into the net with a header.
Atkinson said he felt it was a good time to face some adversity.
“It’s really nice, especially with state coming up,” Atkinson said. “It lets the guys know what’s coming ahead.”
Johnson said he hopes this is the team’s wakeup call.
“This is their last chance to make a mistake. Every one from here on out is a big one. We made a lot of mistakes today, but managed to come out with a win,” Johnson said.
Wasilla 1, Homer 0
WASILLA — Following Colony’s thrilling 3-2 overtime win over Kenai, Wasilla set up an all-Valley boys’ final with a 1-0 win over Homer on Friday evening in the NLC semifinals.
Senior captain Cash McGregor scored the lone goal of the match during the 25th minute, using a diving header to notch the goal. Oleg Lozko set up the play with a corner kick from the left side of the field. McGregor, parked in the far side of the box, was the first to touch the corner kick, diving to knock the ball low into the net.