The Soldotna boys soccer team defeated host Nikiski 2-1 Saturday in a key Northern Lights Conference Southern Division matchup.
To say the matchup was key sounds odd considering it was just Soldotna's first game and Nikiski's second game in Southern Division play, but with such a small window to get into the Northern Lights Conference tournament starting May 13 at Colony, every match is key.
The Southern Division has six teams and only four qualify for the NLC tournament.
"This was almost tournament play," said Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers, whose team is now 1-1 overall. "That's how important these games against division teams are. We've been trying to get that across to them all year."
The game was played in the rain and on a field that, early in the week, had more than 6 inches of snow on it. The sloppy conditions had an impact on the outcome.
Brennen Jackson put Soldotna on the board just five minutes into the game when he got the ball at the top of the penalty area, turned and rocketed a shot toward the Nikiski net. The ball deflected off a Nikiski defender, and Nikiski goalie Rick Miller had no chance to compensate for the misdirection on the slippery turf.
Soldotna grabbed a 2-0 lead 30 minutes into the first half when Alberto de la Garza, a foreign exchange student from Mexico, bounced a shot toward the Nikiski net from 5 yards outside the penalty area. Miller slipped attempting to get to the shot and the ball slipped in over his left shoulder.
Siemers said the two goals show how important it is to put shots on net in tough conditions. The coach said Soldotna had much better scoring opportunities than the ones that resulted in their two goals. However, he said the Stars missed those opportunities because they did not put shots on net and force Miller to make saves in tough conditions.
On the other side of the field, Soldotna goalie Kory Wilbanks did a stellar job handling the slick conditions.
"Their goalie played an excellent game," said Nikiski coach Jim Coburn, whose team is now 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the Southern Division. "What it comes down to is who makes the most mistakes. We made more mistakes than they did."
Coburn also said his side did not play with enough intensity in the first half. The coach said the Bulldogs came out with more intensity in the second half, but that it's always hard to recover from a two-goal deficit.
Not that Nikiski didn't make one heck of an attempt at it.
With 38 minutes gone in the second half, Robert Doty crossed the ball to Justin Vance, who flicked the ball into the goal.
Nikiski then mounted a major effort at the equalizer just a minute later, when Vance found Doty wide open in the box, but Doty pushed his shot wide left.
"I think conditioning still came into play with us," Siemers said. "We have to be able to play all 80 minutes. We played 75 and made it a little exciting at the end too exciting."
Siemers said his midfield did a good job filling space and controlling the ball, while Coburn credited Israel Blatchford and freshman Jeremy Narlock with solid games.
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