ANCHORAGE -- The Kenai Central boys soccer team had the same exact problem that the game balls did Thursday -- they started the game out a little flat.
Dimond senior Ben Bailey netted two goals in the first 24 minutes of the game, and the Lynx made them stand up Thursday in a 2-0 victory over the Kardinals in the opening round of the state soccer tournament at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Kenai (9-4-1) now falls into the fourth-place bracket, where it will face Region III nemesis Colony today at 10 a.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
In the first three minutes of the game, about the only thing Dimond (10-2-2) had to complain about was the game balls, which twice had to be pulled out of the match in order to get more air in them.
Meanwhile, the Lynx were playing perfect one- and two-touch passes while Kenai stood by and watched.
"I just wish we could have had a 10-minute scrimmage against them first," said junior defender Wally Ward. "We needed a while to get used to the skill and speed they had."
Kenai goalkeeper Eric Nyce comes up with one of his many saves on the day.
Photos by Darrell Breese/Morris News Service-Alaska Star
Just three minutes into the game, Travis Bailey found his brother, Ben, all alone on the right side of the field with a through ball. Ben dashed through his wide open lane to the net and beat Kenai keeper Eric Nyce with a rocket to the upper right corner.
Although Dimond is a skilled team, the complete defensive breakdown was uncharacteristic for Kenai, which allowed just seven goals during the 10-game regular season.
"It wasn't disappointing that we lost the game. Dimond's a good team," Kenai coach David Landry said. "What was disappointing was that we came out flat. We didn't have a lot of life the first 10 minutes.
"The first goal was a real bad goal."
Landry wasn't quite sure what caused the slow start. He said it could have been that Kenai's bus rolled out of town about 6:30 a.m. Also, a couple of the players had colds.
"Nobody knows why those things happen," Landry said. "If somebody could figure out why, those things wouldn't happen anymore."
After the first goal, Kenai settled in and started rattling Dimond's passing game a little bit. However, an errant ball played by a Kenai player to the top of the penalty area resulted in a Lynx shot rocketing off the crossbar 16 minutes into the first half.
Then, with 24 minutes gone in the first half, Jorge Leon played a cross right to the forehead of Bailey, who flicked it past Nyce for his second tally.
After that goal, the momentum gradually started shifting from Dimond.
"I think it's just a little bit of excitement on our parts," Dimond coach David Gonzalez said. "We scored a goal in the first couple of minutes and it came easy.
"Then we got excited and we started going 100 miles per hour."
Kenai took advantage of Dimond's overexcitement 36 minutes into the first half, when Adrian Borchgrevink found Bruno Calfa with a through ball. Calfa had Dimond goalie Nik O'Blenness one-on-one, but his shot just went over the crossbar.
By the second half, the Kardinals were fully into the game and challenging every ball. The result was Dimond's style of play looked nothing like the controlled passing game of the first half.
In the first half, Dimond had seven shots on goal while the Kardinals didn't manage any. In the second half, both teams put two shots on goal. In fact, Kenai had the first quality chance of the half, when Kenai just missed pushing a rebound past new goalkeeper Grant Kinney two minutes into the half.
Carlos Carreon, a Kenai midfielder, said the improved play in the second half was due to a halftime pep talk from captains Devon Anderson, Greg Landua and Ward.
"At halftime, we decided we needed to step it up," Ward said. "We didn't give them as much time and space to pass, and it threw them off their game a little bit."
Landry, who said he was pleased with the defense of Ward and Marcus Webster and the midfield play of Carreon, J.D. Pault and Richard Alexander, said the opportunity to play Dimond was invaluable.
"I was taking notes," Ward said. "The biggest thing is the way they trap the ball. No matter how far, high or hard, they can put it right at their feet."
As for Colony, Kenai is anxious to get another shot at last year's state champs. The teams played to a 1-1 tie in the regular season, then went scoreless in the Region III tournament for 110 minutes before the Knights won 3-0 in a shootout.
Kenai, which made it to state last year, will still be looking for the first state tournament win in the program's history.
"We are definitely looking forward to playing them again," Carreon said.
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