Not even a Red Bull energy drink could save the Soldotna boys soccer team against West High Thursday in the opening round of the state soccer tournament at Wasilla High School.
Fueled by a Red Bull, Stars backup goalie Mike Hart appeared to have wings in making save after eye-popping save for most of the first half. However, eventually the drink wore off and the Eagles cruised to a 5-0 victory.
West moves on to a semifinal game today at 6 p.m. at Wasilla High School against Dimond, while Soldotna falls into the fourth-place bracket for a rematch of last week's region championship match against Colony today at 2 p.m. at Colony High School.
The Stars came into the tournament on a roll after winning their first Region III title last weekend. One of the heroes of the win was senior goalie Adam Kiffmeyer, but Kiffmeyer didn't make it to state because of a trip to Mexico.
For most of the first half, Hart assured that Kiffmeyer wasn't missed.
"I wasn't exactly in a zone, but this was definitely the best game I played all season," Hart said.
Hart was at his best with a string of three saves in a matter of two minutes near the end of the first half. Until that time, a Soldotna defense led by stopper Matt Meacham and sweeper Scott Laurion had done a good job of limiting West opportunities.
With nine minutes left in the half, Hart dove and got an arm on a point-blank shot by West's Tage Packebush.
Just one minute later, West's Ivan Aldana ticketed a shot for the upper right corner of the net, but again Hart managed to get a hand on it.
The rebound squirted to Packebush, but Hart was able to dive and cover Packebush's rolling shot.
West, and Packebush, for that matter, finally broke through with five minutes left in the first half. Packebush beat two defenders in tight space in the penalty area, and hummed a left-footed shot into the upper right side of the net.
After that, it was all West.
"We had good goalkeeping in the first half that saved us from a couple shots," Soldotna coach Jeff Siemers said. "They were just quicker to the ball than us. We couldn't get any opportunities on the goal."
In the second half, West began to tire out Soldotna using possession soccer. In particular, West did a good job of playing the ball back out of congested areas. The Eagles would then work the ball to the other side of the field, making the Stars chase.
"They were just playing at a higher level than we were," Soldotna senior midfielder Ben Histand said. "It was pretty frustrating for me.
"They just kept working the ball on the ground. It was like they had more guys on the field."
In the second half, with the Stars tiring, the West scoring came in quick succession:
n In the 46th minute, West's Gabe Shaddy-Farnsworth took a pass from Packebush, worked the ball to the end line and curled a shot past Hart.
n In the 57th minute, West goalie Joe Quinn scored on a penalty kick.
n In the 60th minute, West's Mark Kleedehn received a ball from Shaddy-Farnsworth and emerged from a scramble in the box to poke the ball past Hart.
n In the 72nd minute, West's Damon Benedict scored the goal of the match. Showing bursting speed, he took the ball near midfield and beat a couple of Soldotna defenders before swooping in and drilling a shot past Hart.
"I think we'll learn that soccer can always be pushed to a higher, more difficult level," said Siemers, whose team was making its first appearance at state. "It was good for our team to play against a team at that level."
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