The Skyview High School boys soccer team showcased the style of play that has them unbeaten this season, rallying from a one-goal deficit to defeat Nikiski 3-2 Saturday in a Region III-Southern Division match in Nikiski.
Also Saturday, the Skyview girls stayed alive in the hunt for a region tournament berth, beating the Bulldogs 1-0.
"That was the kind of game you like to see on a day like today," said Nikiski boys coach James Coburn. "We had this beautiful weather and an awesome game."
The Skyview boys drew first blood in the match, striking just four minutes in. The Panthers won a free kick and played the ball into the box where Skyview sniper Trevor Barber neatly touched it home. Chatchay Apaipak was credited with an assist on the play.
After 27 minutes of play that went from one end of the pitch to the other, the Bulldogs were able to net the equalizer with a nifty bit of passing in the Skyview penalty area. Nick Russell scored on a volley, with Jeremiah Taylor notching the assist.
The Bulldogs made it 2-1 just a minute before the half. Skyview goalkeeper Matt Stalnik parried away a hard Nikiski shot, but Taylor was in position to knock in the rebound.
But the Panthers were able to withstand Nikiski's pressure to open the second half, and Barber knotted the game at 2 10 minutes into the frame.
"There was a little bit" of uneasiness about being down a goal at halftime, said Skyview's Sean Mallette, "but we knew what we had to do."
Mallette played a key role in the Panthers' equalizer, driving the ball back into the Nikiski penalty area after a Skyview direct kick had been knocked out of the box. Mallette's shot bounced around before Barber was able to settle the ball, touch it past a defender and knock it home.
Mallette scored the matchwinner four minutes later, hitting a shot from 35 yards out that glanced off Nikiski keeper Josh Winters' hands and ricocheted off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net.
"I was actually thinking, Give it a nice, low shot,'" Mallette said. "... My shot sailed up I didn't expect it to go in."
The Bulldogs pushed hard looking for the tie in the final 20 minutes of play, but Stalnik came up with several big saves to keep the Panthers on top.
With the win, the Panthers improve to 7-0-1 overall a mark that brings a whole different kind of pressure with it.
"We didn't plan to have a shutout season, but that's how it's worked out," Mallette said.
Skyview coach Dave Carpenter said he's been impressed at the way his squad has handled the pressure that comes with success. Carpenter said the team talks about it in practice and never panics on the pitch even when down by a goal.
"They're just really coachable," Carpenter said. "They listen well, and they know what they need to do to get going.
"They put pressure on themselves by performing as well as they are. They've felt the pressure, but they've made the adjustments and kept their heads level."
The Bulldogs fall to 2-3-2 overall, but Coburn said the Bulldogs will need to win their last two division games, at Kenai Tuesday and home against Seward Thursday, to have a shot at one of the four Southern Division berths in the region tournament.
Coburn said he was proud of the Bulldogs' effort despite the loss. Winters made 11 saves in goal, and Coburn has been impressed with what he's seen from first-year player Taylor. Joey Wicker had an outstanding game in the midfield, and Nathan Smith did well at sweeper.
With that type of individual effort, Coburn said the Bulldogs should do just fine playing a couple of must-win matches.
"When the pressure is on, that's when they play their best soccer," Coburn said.
Skyview girls 1, Nikiski 0
Skyview's Jenny Carpenter notched the only goal of the match on a direct kick in the 38th minute as the Panthers stayed in the hunt for a berth to the region tournament.
For the Bulldogs, though, it was yet another one-goal loss.
"We just just can't pull those out," said Nikiski's Rainy Reilly, adding an "I don't know" and a shoulder shrug.
"We have a lot of young players and a lot of first-year players. We're teaching them where to go and how to communicate. We think defense first, then offense, as long as we can get it up there and take a shot."
Carpenter's shot was one of the few shots of the match as both defenses stymied the other team's attacking chances, keeping most of the play in the middle of the field.
The free kick off which Carpenter scored was created when Skyview's forwards made a foray up the wing. Carpenter said her first inclination was to look for the easiest pass, but she had some advice from the sidelines to put the ball on goal.
"I heard my dad (Skyview boys coach Dave Carpenter) on the sidelines, so I figured I should do that," Carpenter said. "Usually we look for the easiest pass. I thought (the shot) was open, and I thought if I could hit it high enough, (Nikiski goalkeeper Sarah Herrin) might bumble it and we would have an easy goal."
Instead, Carpenter's lofted shot was untouchable as it dipped just below the crossbar and just inside the back post.
The Bulldogs were able to pin the ball into the Skyview end of the field for long stretches of the second half, but never came up with the equalizer.
Skyview improves to 3-4-1 overall and 1-2-1 in division play.
Nikiski is 2-4-2 overall and 0-3 in the division.
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