The Soldotna High School boys soccer team might have had a few more scoring chances, but it was the Nikiski Bulldogs making the most of the opportunities they had to send the Stars to a 2-1 loss in a Region III Southern Division match Tuesday in Nikiski.
In the girls match scoring chances were hard to come by, and Soldotna was the only side to find the back of the net in a 1-0 win.
"Any time you can do well against Soldotna, Kenai or Skyview, it feels good," said Nikiski boys coach Jim Coburn after his squad scored late to secure the win. "They have good kids with great skill."
With the return of three starters to the lineup, the Bulldogs proved they could compete on the same field. Nikiski never trailed in the match and, in fact, led for most of the first half.
Ryan Swanson put the Bulldogs on the board just seven minutes into the match on a goal set up by a free kick from the right wing. Travis McGahan drove the ball across the Soldotna 18-yard box, where it was knocked around until Israel Blatchford was able to play the ball to Swanson, who was able to place the ball past Stars goalkeeper Hunter Sirois.
Soldotna recovered and was able to put some pressure on the Bulldogs defenders as the half progressed, but Nikiski goalkeeper Rick Miller proved up to the task with several good saves, including coming off his line to stuff a Stars breakaway five minutes before the half.
Nikiski opened the second half with a pair of good scoring bids that sailed high of the net, but the Stars also began to find some space to shoot.
After ripping a shot just wide of the post five minutes into the second half, Johnny Mills finally netted the equalizer for the Stars, collecting the ball out of a crowd of players and punching his shot past Miller from the penalty spot.
Both teams continued to play hard through the second half -- scrappy play at times got chippy and several yellow cards were issued -- and Miller was called on to make one more big save with about eight minutes left in the match, just getting his fingertips on a blast from 20 yards out and tipping over the crossbar.
"With every game, he's getting better," McGahan said of his keeper.
Robert Doty netted the match winner for the Bulldogs with five minutes left to play, floating a shot in from the wing that carried past Sirois and into the net.
McGahan said the Bulldogs were more cohesive on the field.
"We had better teamwork. That was our focus this week -- teamwork and staying together," McGahan said.
Coburn said he also appreciated the midfield play of Travis McCaughey and Brett Allemann.
The Stars had a solid performance from sweeper Kelly Seggerman, who was charged with containing Nikiski's direct attack and speedy forwards. Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said Seggerman was called on to play sweeper when his usual starter wasn't able to play.
"He played real well. He did a good job stepping up," Siemers said.
Siemers also said there was some frustration on his squad, which played very well but just hasn't been able to score goals.
"Our guys played very well, especially in the second half, but we couldn't finish," Siemers said.
The Soldotna girls also would like to be scoring more goals, but one proved to be enough Tuesday.
"We should have scored more goals, but that's the story of our lives," said Soldotna's Abby Kiffmeyer. "Our defense did real good keeping the ball away from Marlana (McCown, the Stars goalkeeper)."
Eve Green scored the only goal of the match two minutes before the half. Green collected the ball along the right touchline and sprinted up the wing to get a step on the Nikiski defender. Green then cut toward the goal about 10 yards from the endline and placed her shot just over the reach of goalkeeper Sarah Herrin and just inside the far post.
"I think our defense was very good," said Nikiski coach Richard Kelso. "There wasn't a lot of chances on goal, but unfortunately, we didn't create many chances either."
Kelso was pleased with the way his team played hard in the midfield, which also was one of the reasons neither team had many shots on net. With both teams tackling hard, neither side was able to sustain an attack.
Soldotna's Erin Hartman said more chances will come as the season progresses and the team continues to jell.
"We just need to get the ball in the goal," Hartman said. "As the games go on, we're going to improve."
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