Soccer has been dubbed the thinking man's game, but Soldotna High School striker Johnny Mills found a slightly different -- but ultimately just as successful -- use for his noggin Friday afternoon.
Mills scored the only goal of the match for the Stars with a picture-perfect header to give the Soldotna boys a 1-0 win over the visiting Palmer Moose in a Region III match.
The Soldotna girls played well on Friday as well, but fell to the Moose by a score of 4-1.
The Soldotna boys finished up their homestand with a 3-3 draw against Wasilla Saturday while the Soldotna girls lost 4-2 to the Warriors.
"It was all Chris Houglum," Mills said of his goal Friday, referring to his teammate who provided the serve into the box. "Chris just put a perfect ball on my head."
Houglum set up the goal by collecting a ball played out of the midfield toward the corner flag on Soldotna's left wing. Anticipating the cross, Mills made his run from the right side across the mouth of the goal, and Houglum's serve met his head at the near post, where Mills was able to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
Palmer's Rick Knapp tries to fend off Soldotna's Ben Histand Friday afternoon.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"It wasn't a planned thing," Mills said. "I saw Chris bust through, and he played a perfect ball."
The goal came with about 10 minutes left in the match, and Soldotna closed out the match by pounding the ball deep into the Palmer end of the field, never letting the Moose build any momentum.
"That was great for our defense," Soldotna's Jared Carlson said of the shutout. "That was a good next step. After our games against Seward and Homer, our offense started clicking, and the goals just started coming. (The defense) just tried to keep that momentum going."
Both sides had some stellar scoring opportunities throughout the match. Palmer keeper Chris Abbott stopped a Soldotna penalty kick early in the match, and about 20 minutes after the Moose rattled a shot off the crossbar, Soldotna keeper Houston Morris robbed Palmer's Travis Rapp of a goal on a shot labeled for the upper corner from 30 yards out.
The Stars had two good bids late in the first half, getting a foot on the ball with Abbott off his line, but both chances were put over the top of the goal.
On Saturday, the Stars made up for an own goal 20 minutes into the match when Edgar Ruiz nodded home a Soldotna free kick from the wing.
"Edgar put an absolutely lovely ball into the upper corner," Bramante said.
Mike McIntosh gave the Stars their first lead of the match in the second half, beating four Wasilla defenders with his dribble before placing his shot into the lower corner of the goal, and Lucas Petersen made it 3-1 five minutes later, shooting a free kick through a scramble of players in front of the Wasilla goal. The ball took a bounce and skipped past the Warriors goalkeeper.
Wasilla drew to within a goal by converting on a questionable penalty kick later in the half, though, and the Warriors tied the match late in the game by bending a direct kick around the Soldotna defensive wall and into the back of the net.
"We were very disappointed to have been so far up and settle for a tie, but it's nice to walk away with four points (in the standings) from Wasilla and Palmer," Bramante said. "Everybody's playing well. There's not a gap in this team. Everybody's playing their position very effectively. The intensity level is where I want it, the skill level surprises me continuously, and we're finally finishing."
The Soldotna girls were competitive in both their matches, but a few defensive lapses allowed their opponents to gain the upper hand.
Palmer's Tami Callison struck for a goal and set up two more in Soldotna's loss to the Moose Friday.
Mary Hall scored for the Stars early in the match, assisted by Annie Penner.
Callison set up Richelle Knapp for Palmer's first goal of the match, and Emily Bolling banked a shot off teammate Jhacie Azure for Palmer's second goal of the game.
Megan Toomey scored with five minutes to play in the first half for the Moose, pouncing on a rebound of a Callison shot, and Callison scored the only goal of the second half on a long shot that carried into the back of the Soldotna net. Bolling was credited with the assist on the play.
"In the first half, we weren't organizing well at the back," said Palmer girls coach Brian Fish. "We did do some real good things offensively with our forwards going to goal."
The Stars did have their share of chances in front of the Palmer goal as well.
"The game was back and forth a lot," said Soldotna girls coach Katie Tongue. "We had a lot of chances. I'm happy with the way we played -- it's too bad the score was 1-4."
While the Stars were able to create some scoring opportunities, they are still waiting to start putting a few more balls in the net.
"We can work the ball all the way up, but when we get to the penalty area, we can't put it in," Sam Penner said. "Our defense is still improving from the first game we played. Everybody is getting back and marking their man."
Soldotna played another tight game Saturday. In fact, Soldotna and Wasilla were tied at two until the Warriors scored two quick goals in the closing minutes of the match.
Soldotna's Jennifer Senette scored the first goal of the match, assisted by Annie Penner, and Sam Penner took a free kick to set up Erin Wolfe for the Stars' second goal.
"Our midfield fought really hard," Tongue said. "Overall, I'm really happy with the way we played. We still have a few defensive issues to clear up. We've had some tough breaks. We've been in these close games. Hopefully, our break is coming."
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