Scenes of chaos punctuated the late stages of Saturday afternoon’s Peninsula Conference girls clash between Soldotna and Homer at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, and now that it’s over, the fun will really begin.
Amid waves of rain and hail, SoHi held off a late charge by Homer to win a Peninsula Conference regular season finale 2-1, forcing a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Homer and Kenai Central. All three teams finished the regular season at 4-1-2 in conference play.
The tiebreaker will require the third or fourth option to break it up, which will provide one team a big break in getting the No. 1 seed, while the No. 2 and 3 seeds will face off in next week’s region semifinals, with a state spot on the line. The top seed will face the winner of the No. 4 and 5 quarterfinal round, either Nikiski or Seward.
“This is huge for us,” said Soldotna head coach Jimmy Love about the Stars forcing the tiebreak. SoHi would have been relegated to the third seed with a loss.
“That’s a tough game,” Love said. “Regardless of who it is, it’s a tough game for either the two or three seed. The two-three game could very well be the championship game.
“It’s probably the most even I’ve seen a season, to be honest.”
The Stars flaunted their strength early with two first-half goals from Journey Miller and Meijan Leaf on strikes from long distances that found the back of the netting for a 2-0 halftime lead.
Homer and Soldotna tied 3-3 in an April 9 meeting, so the game was already expected to be a tight battle for supremacy before the opening whistle.
Homer head coach Mike Tozzo was left lamenting the sluggish start by the Mariners.
“I thought we did a great job, the girls played … couple mistakes, though,” Tozzo said. “Two goals, not enough pressure up front. It’s all right. Things happen; that’s a really good team over there.
“It was just too little, too late at the end. We’ll be all right, we’ll regroup and get back into it.”
The Mariners turned up the pressure in the second half with the wind and rain at their backs and consistently harassed Soldotna goalkeeper Margarida Mendoca, who jumped on several close calls to keep the shutout going.
Eventually, Homer’s front line broke through in the 77th minute on a free kick opportunity. Eve Brau took the shot and found Zoe Stonorov in the goal box for a goal that slashed the lead in half.
From there, the final minutes featured a frenzied flurry of activity in Soldotna’s end of the field as Homer fought to equalize, but nothing could get through Mendoca.
Soldotna also celebrated Senior Night and recognized team seniors Kortney Birch, Haley Buckbee, Pauline Catacutan, Hannah Delker, Mykenna Foster, Serena Larrow, Sierra Longfellow, Roos Meijer, Margarida Mendoca and Maria Victoria Cunha Maciel.
Homer boys 3, Soldotna 0
The Mariners secured the second seed for next week’s Peninsula Conference tournament Saturday with a win over a depleted Soldotna team.
Homer secured the second seed in the conference with a final league record of 4-2-1, while SoHi dropped to 4-3-0 in conference and will receive the third seed in the tournament. Kenai (6-0-1) clinched the top seed on Thursday with a tight 1-0 win over Homer.
A win for the Stars would have given them the second seed, but it would not have prevented a region semifinal matchup with Homer next week. Last year, Homer defeated SoHi on penalty kicks in the region semis.
SoHi was playing without a significant chunk of their starting core Saturday due to eight players being expelled from the team for disciplinary issues, including six starters.
Soldotna assistant coach Erik Dolphin said the loss of Soldotna’s most potent scorers made for a tough day on offense against Homer.
“The biggest thing is it’s been very mentally draining,” Dolphin said. “It’s one of those things where morale has been the hardest thing to try to keep up at this point.
“We have a lot of good players still remaining, but it’s hard to keep morale up in the face of adversity like that.”
SoHi’s seasonlong starting goalkeeper Hunter Woodward played about 15 minutes as a position player before leaving to heal a leg injury, allowing Colton Sorhus to get a full game in goal for the Stars.
Homer goalie Clayton Beachy earned the blank sheet in net for the Mariners, who maintained a tough midfield battle with SoHi for stretches of time. Homer easily put more shots on goal than SoHi, which had trouble finishing runs on Homer’s end of the field.
“I kind of figured if they lose eight varsity players, it may be easier than it would’ve been otherwise,” said Homer head coach Warren Waldorf. “But those kids came hard and played hard all game. It wasn’t easy, it took us a little bit to figure it out and get a couple goals on them.”
Phinny Weston opened the scoring for Homer 14 minutes in on a free kick from over 30 yards out that sailed over Sorhus’ hands.
Despite losing numbers, the Stars held the Homer lead to 1-0 at halftime, but the Mariners kept pressing.
Eventually, Daniel Reutov was able to tally the insurance goal for Homer in the 52nd minute, outracing a SoHi defender into the goal box and slotting home the scoring strike on a slide.
Austin Shafford scored in the final minute of regulation to seal the victory for Homer.
Waldorf said he feels confident in his team as the postseason gets underway next weekend in Homer.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Waldorf said. “We’ll play this team next week, and obviously we feel a little easier about it.”
Dolphin said the Stars will not be bringing back any players for the conference tourney, but said a performance like Saturday’s will go a long way in giving them a boost.