Wait 'til next year -- that's what members of the Kenai Central High School boys soccer team were telling themselves a year ago after Skyview knocked them out of the Region III tournament on penalty kicks.
That proverbial next year came Saturday for the Kardinals, who returned the favor to the Panthers by winning the third-place match at the Region III soccer tournament on penalty kicks to advance to next week's ASAA State Championships.
"It was poetic justice," said Kenai's Joel Reemtsma after the Kardinals' 2-2 draw was settled with 20 minutes of scoreless overtime and five rounds of penalty kicks.
"They put us out of regions last year in a shootout. I was flashing back to last year."
With the match tied at 2 after 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, the Panthers and Kardinals went into a shootout -- a form of tiebreaker that involves five players from each team taking penalty kicks on the other team's keeper.
Skyview's Chris Hodel opened up the shootout and made the most of his shot, putting the ball low to the lower left corner to beat Kenai keeper Sean Nuccio.
Nuccio went on to make three saves -- and let the post make a fourth one for him -- while Wally Ward and Carlos Carreon converted their penalty kicks to give the Kardinals a 2-1 edge in the shootout and a 3-2 victory in the score book.
"It was all Nacho," Reemtsma said, referring to the Kenai keeper by his nickname. "We don't deserve (to have a keeper that good). He makes us feel safe, even when we don't score a lot of goals."
Reemtsma netted the first goal of the match, taking a through ball from Ryan Whitely, getting a good touch on the ball to split the Skyview defense and placing an easy shot past Heatherly.
Hodel answered for the Panthers late in the first half, gaining a step on the Kenai defense and rocketing a shot from the right side to the far post to beat Nuccio.
"I knew one goal wasn't going to be enough," Reemtsma said. "Chris Hodel has a cannon for a shot. I knew we'd have to put another in."
Cesar Lopez netted the second Kenai goal, winning a ball at midfield and knocking it into space behind the Skyview defense. Lopez was able to run onto the ball and bury his shot to give the Kardinals a 2-1 lead.
The Panthers tied things up late in the match, getting Hodel some time and space to play the ball on the right wing with a long pass forward. Hodel's cross found Jacob Fellman at the far post.
Nuccio came off his line to play Fellman's touch back toward the middle of the penalty area, but Jayson Bedunnah got there first to net the equalizer.
"I always had a hunch that these guys would be ready to play in the tournament," said Skyview coach Dave Carpenter. "We had the opportunities to win this one. We got the ball behind the goalie two or three times.
"I used a lot of younger guys. Hopefully, they'll be hungry for next year -- they've got the experience."
"Both teams really wanted it," said Skyview's Leon Galbraith. "They got the kick they needed. I think we'll be real strong next year."
"I was praying that we could get it," said Skyview's Chris Rice of his first shootout experience. "It just didn't go our way."
Reemtsma said that after last season's first-round bounce from the region tournament, the Kardinals spent a little more time practicing their penalty kicks this season.
"I don't think we got stopped on a penalty kick all season -- we had one blocked, but we got the goal on the rebound," Reemtsma said.
While preparation paid off in the shootout, it was Greg Landua's work ethic in the midfield that gave Kenai plenty of scoring chances.
"He's a workhorse," Reemtsma said. "(Skyview's) bigger, open field is a lot better for (players that like to dribble the ball) like he and I do."
"I thought we had the better of play for the entire day -- except when we went into periods where we were playing not to lose," said Kenai coach David Landry. "They capitalized on those lulls where we let them dictate the pace of the game."
While Skyview finishes the season with a 4-5-1 regular-season record and a 1-2 mark in the tournament, the Kardinals (5-3-1, 2-1) have another week of practice before the state tournament starts.
"It'll be a fun week -- there's no pressure on us," Landry said. "We've got an opportunity to play against the best, and the style they play is the style we want to play. It's validation of what we've been doing. It seems like we're doing the right thing, and heading in the right direction."
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