WASILLA -- There were times during the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer teams 5-1 victory over the East Anchorage Thunderbirds where the Crimson Bears didn't play with a lot of grace or poetry of movement.
But the Crimson Bears weren't too concerned that Thursday's opening-round victory wasn't the prettiest game they've ever played. All that mattered was the defending state champions won and they still have a chance to repeat.
"A win is a win," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said as his players did a cool-down run after the game. "We only need three, and that's one. We didn't start very well, so that first goal by Lee (Sullivan, a junior striker) was huge. We scored on a lot of set pieces, a lot of throws, and our defense played a good game. We only had one real breakdown. And Axel (Thibodeau, a junior flank) created a lot of dangerous chances for us."
With the victory, the Crimson Bears advanced into today's 4 p.m. semifinal game at Wasilla against the Service Cougars, who beat the Kenai Kardinals 5-0 on Thursday in a first-round game at Colony High School in Palmer. Service's only loss this season was 3-1 to Juneau on May 11.
In Thursday's other boys first-round games, the West Anchorage Eagles blanked the Soldotna Stars 5-0 at Wasilla and the Dimond Lynx beat the Colony Lynx at Colony. West and Dimond play in today's 6 p.m. semifinal at Wasilla. East and Kenai play at noon today ain one consolation game, while Soldotna and Colony play at 2 p.m. in the other, both games at Colony.
If Juneau beats Service today, the Crimson Bears will make their third straight appearance in the state championship game, which this year is at 5 p.m. Saturday at Wasilla. If Juneau loses, it plays the West-Dimond loser for third place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Colony. Juneau beat Dimond 1-0 in last year's title game and lost 3-2 to Colony in the 2000 championship.
On Thursday, Juneau (15-1-1 overall) started slow and Lehnhart felt the East players were beating the Crimson Bears to loose balls. But in the game's 10th minute, Evan Brinkman fed Lee Sullivan for a run down the right side and Sullivan beat East Anchorage goalkeeper Zack Krochina for the game's first score.
"Evan gave me the ball down the line," said Sullivan, who was selected as Juneau's player of the game by tournament officials. "I beat a defender and he put it on my foot. It was definitely nice to get a goal at the beginning of the game."
East tied the score in the game's 22nd minute when East's player of the game, Joe Lumpkin, took a pass from Jacob Wilson just outside the penalty box and scored from the left side. The Thunderbirds (4-6-3 overall), who had given the Crimson Bears trouble in the three previous times the teams played over the last two seasons, including a victory last year, seemed like they might have upset plans.
But Juneau took the lead for good in the game's 33rd minute when two senior defenders who had been sidelined by injury in recent weeks combined for a goal after a throw-in. Jacob Haas, who had his left cheekbone fractured in three places during a May 6 collision in practice, scored the goal after teammate Collin Daugherty, who'd missed six games to a deep thigh bruise, knocked down the throw-in from Robert Lossett. Haas played in games May 9-11, then had surgery to repair the broken cheek on May 13 but played in a team scrimmage this past Monday.
"I feel better," said Haas, his left cheek still slightly swollen and left eye sporting a blood bruise. "Everybody's producing chances and it helped with Collin back there to back me up. It was do or die out there."
"It feels OK, it doesn't hurt and the reason I came out today was preventative," said Daugherty, who was given Juneau's traditional postgame lunchbox award as the player the coaches felt came to work that game. "As a defender, your eyes pop open when you see plays like that, where you can come forward and have a chance to score."
Juneau added another goal to take a 3-1 lead into halftime, as Zach Essary scored on an assist from Lossett after a corner kick.
The Crimson Bears continued to press the pace in the second half as the game turned a little chippy. East's Branislav Jovic drew a pair of yellow cards in the 14th and 16th minutes of the second half and was ejected, while Juneau's Kirk Mearig and Josh Carpenter both picked up single yellow cards (warnings) over rough tackles in the game's final 10 minutes.
Juneau had two apparent goals disallowed to open the second half -- a header by Brinkman in the ninth minute was disallowed because Brinkman was ruled offsides and a hard shot by Travis Croteau was disallowed because it was ruled to have bounced in after hitting the football uprights before going into the net.
The Crimson Bears finally connected on a couple of counting goals later in the second half, as Croteau scored on an assist from Lossett in the 24th minute and Essary scored his second goal of the game on an assist from Brinkman in the 38th minute of the half.
"It was just perfect, Evan gave me a nice pass," Essary said. "We came out kind of slow, but picked it up as the game went on."
East coach Tr Gaither said the key to Juneau's victory was desire -- the Crimson Bears wanted to win more than his Thunderbirds.
"I think the boys were trying to understand that actions speak louder than words," Gaither said. "I heard a lot of talk, but saw no action. Balls were bouncing in our 18-foot line, and Juneau was first to the ball every time. We didn't come out to play today. Zuriel (Juneau goalkeeper Zuriel Ebron) was beating us to balls in the box, and Juneau beat us in all three parts of the field, in the back line, midfield and up front."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.