The dark sky and pouring rain made a fitting backdrop for a championship soccer game riddled with drama and high stakes as the Kenai Kardinals and Juneau Douglas Bears battled it out to see who would be best in the state this year — turns out, it was Kenai.
The Kardinals defended their championship title from last year in the Division II state soccer tournament Saturday by beating Juneau 3-2 in a fast-paced match that went into three halves of overtime.
Both teams were tied at 0-0 by halftime, and were tied up at 1-1 by the end of regulation play. Juneau’s first goal, and the first goal of the game, was netted by Philemon Yorkes about midway into the second half.
By the time the game was wearing down to the last few minutes, Kenai goalkeeper Braedon Pitsch wanted to win so badly that he came out of the net, ran down the field and jumped in to help his teammates, all against the advice of his coaches.
“I’ll give a trade secret here,” head coach Shane Lopez joked after the game. “Braedon ignored us. We told him to stay, and he had his own plan in mind. And there’s going to be no living with him now.”
“I just wanted to win so bad,” Pitsch said after the game. “So I just went up there and took a chance.”
The risky move paid off when Pitsch netted the first goal for Kenai and tied up the score with a header in the last minute of regulation play. Of the moment, Pitsch said he was “so in shock.”
“I don’t really remember how I did it, I just remember it going in,” he said.
Sophomore forward Leif Lofquist tilted the game in Kenai’s favor when, less than a minute into the first half of overtime, he netted another goal for the Kardinals and brought the score to 2-1.
Not to let things slip away easily, Juneau answered just one minute later with a goal of their own from Kannon Goetz, tying up the score once more at 2-2. That’s where it stayed at the end of both 10-minute halves of overtime, so the teams were given two more halves of just five minutes. In sudden death fashion, the first team to score would win.
Lofquist came through with the goal to clinch the game with about 15 seconds left in the first five-minute half.
“It feels great,” Lofquist said of the win. “Especially because last year we had a ton of seniors, and that’s what, like, helped our team. So to lose all them and have the same outcome’s pretty cool.”
“It’s everything,” Lopez said of the victory. “It was amazing, the battle that these guys have put in. I could not be more honored, could not be more proud to be a part of this team and to be here for this moment.”
Homer 1, Monroe 0
Earlier in the day, the Homer boys defeated Monroe Catholic 1-0 to land fourth place in the state tournament.
The game was decided by a round of penalty kicks when the teams remained tied 0-0 at the end of regulation play, and after a five-minute sudden death period.
Both teams made their first two shots against each other, so they were tied 2-2, Homer head coach Warren Waldorf explained. Homer missed its third shot, and Monroe made theirs, so the score went to 3-2.
Then, Monroe’s fourth shooter missed and Homer’s fourth shooter made the shot, tying the game back up again at 3-3. Homer goalkeeper Clayton Beachy made a save on Monroe’s fifth shot. He then stepped up to the ball and made the fifth shot for Homer himself, which went in and gave the Mariners their victory.
Beachy was named player of the match.
Waldorf said he’s proud of how the team did overall this season.
“We did the best that we could with what we had, and we went as far as we could with the numbers that we had this year,” he said.
Kenai Central 2, Ketchikan 0
Kenai sophomore Leif Lofquist led the charge with both of the evening’s goals. Both came in the second half after an evenly matched first half in which no one could get past the other team’s defense or goalkeepers.
Lofquist’s first goal came about seven minutes after the start of the second half, and his second with just five minutes left in the game. He was named player of the match for Kenai. Apollo Jasper was player of the match for Ketchikan.
Kenai head coach Shane Lopez said it’s nice to be back in the championship game this year.
“It’s always an honor to be in the championship game,” he said. “And a privilege for these guys that not a lot of people get to experience, and it’s one that we’re going to enjoy.”
In addition to Lofquist, Lopez praised his midfielders, defenders and goalkeeper Braedon Pitsch, who made a number of solid saves.
Homer 2, Grace Christian 1
In other peninsula team action, Homer rose above the Grace Christian Grizzlies 2-1 on the Eagle River High School field on Friday. Eyoab Knapp netted both of Homer’s goals — one in the first half and another in the second.
Grace Christian’s Luke Schaezlein scored his team’s lone goal about five minutes into the start of the game, putting Homer at a disadvantage right off the bat.
Knapp was named player of the match for Homer, while Paul Kopp was player of the match for Grace Christian.
“It was a little more challenging today,” head coach Warren Waldorf said of the match. “Because we didn’t have Ethan (Pitzman) today either.”
Top goal scorer Daniel Reutov has been unable to play for the Mariners in the state tournament after being hurt in the Peninsula Conference Championships last weekend. Pitzman rolled his ankle in Thursday’s state tournament game, and Waldorf felt it safer to keep him off it on Friday. Pitzman was named Thursday’s player of the game for Homer.
“We dug ourselves out,” Waldorf said of the Friday game.