Led by a powerful young gun, the Homer girls outlasted the competition.
Freshman Claire Siekaniec scored two overtime goals to help Homer to a 4-2 win Saturday over the Grace Christian Grizzlies in the championship game of the Region III soccer tournament at Kenai Central High School.
The midfielder put the Mariners ahead for good just three minutes into the first half of overtime when she curled her corner kick off the hands and over the head of Grace goalie Caitlin Burr. Siekaniec also added an insurance goal in the second half of overtime.
Following the game, Homer coach Mickey Todd said Siekaniec's clutch play in overtime came as no surprise to him, despite the fact that this is just Siekaniec's first season of high school soccer.
"She's our playmaker," Todd said of Siekaniec, who netted her 13th and 14th goals of the season Saturday.
Although Siekaniec was the hero late, it was a couple of Homer's more experienced players who led the Mariners during regulation.
Senior striker Chantrelle Cousins got Homer on the board in the 10th minute when she took the feed from junior halfback Bailey Lowney and calmly ripped a shot to Burr's left that found the corner of the net.
Homer's Bailey Lowney starts to celebrate as her shot gets past Grace Christian's keeper Caitlin Burr and Rikki Peck to take the lead in the second half of Saturday's Region III championship game.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Mariners nearly scored again just two minutes later, but were thwarted by remarkable saves from Burr something which would become a theme as the game wore on.
Grace struck back in the 16th minute when Region III MVP Ally Erving lifted a long shot from 40 yards out that caught Homer keeper Kathryn McCorren off her line to tie the game at 1-1.
After that, it was Burr's time to shine, as the Grizzlies keeper came up with a number of diving stops that left the crowd gasping. First, she dove to her left to stop a Siekaniec drive that looked destined for the back of the net. Minutes later, she somehow caught a Cousins header that appeared to be a sure thing.
Following the game, Grace coach Cordell Lucia gave his goalie credit for keeping his team in the game and pointed out the fact the Burr was everywhere despite limping through the game with an injury.
"You should see her when she's not hurt," Lucia said.
With Burr turning back a barrage of Homer shots, the game remained tied going into the second half. The Mariners almost pulled in front in the 67th minute, when Lowney played a nifty back heel pass to Siekaniec, who blasted the ball at the corner for what looked to be the Mariners' second goal. But Burr was there again, diving to her left to somehow keep things knotted.
Despite Burr's heroics, the Mariners managed to break through in the 75th minute, when Cousins returned Lowney's first half favor by setting her teammate up for a shot that found the bottom right corner and put Homer up 2-1 with just minutes remaining.
Grace refused to give in, however, and with just seconds to spare tied things up on a long free kick off the foot of midfielder Dakota Stranik that left Todd shaking his head in disbelief.
"Every once in a while we kind of let down and lose our focus," he said. "That was one of those times."
Despite losing its focus at the end of regulation, Homer was able to avoid an overtime letdown by pressing a tired Grace team that was playing in its second overtime game in two days after beating Colony in overtime Friday evening.
"It was tough there, especially when a lot of our players are not club players," Lucia said of his team's sluggish play in the overtime.
Still, getting to the Region III championship game isn't anything to be ashamed of, he said.
"To come down here and win and then play Homer and stay with them, that does tons for these girls' confidence," Lucia said.
As for the Mariners, Homer completed an undefeated run through Region III with Saturday's win and set itself up to try and achieve its goal of earning a win at the state tournament next weekend in Anchorage something Homer's Siekaniec said she thinks her team is ready to do.
"As long as we play our game and try to control the pace, we'll be all right," she said.
Colony girls 1, Palmer 0
Colony earned third place and a trip to the state tournament with a 1-0 win Saturday over their Region III rivals the Palmer Moose in the third-place game.
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