Strong starts have not been the Service High boys soccer team's strength this season, but the Cougars remedied that shortcoming Thursday afternoon.
After splitting matches with East in the Cook Inlet Conference regular season, Service opened the league tournament by delivering two goals in the opening 11 minutes, cruising to a four-goal lead by halftime and eliminating the Thunderbirds 6-0 at Chugiak High's Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
The Cougars exploited the T-birds' disorganized defense so harshly early on that only a series of spectacular saves from East goalkeeper Davis Kitagawa kept the match from getting completely out of hand inside the opening 20 minutes.
As it was, first-half goals from sophomore Ihro Raguindin and freshman John Anebom, and two goals from sophomore Reece Robinson, who finished with a hat trick, furnished the fifth-seeded Cougars a 4-0 lead over the fourth-seeded T-birds at the break.
"Obviously, our (regular) season was a little disappointing,'' said Service coach Dan Rufner, "but I feel like we've always felt we were on the edge of connecting things, and it was really nice to do that today. That's the best start we've had all season.''
Raguindin forged a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game when he scored off a scramble after Kitagawa made an initial save. Robinson doubled the lead just eight minutes later when he scored after settling Kirby Graff's splendid and long free kick.
Kitagawa came charging out of the box moments later to snuff Raguindin and he got his left hand on John Yoon's left-footed rocket soon after that. Near the end of the half, he got his right arm on a bid from Raguindin.
Still, the Cougars could not be contained in the opening 40 minutes. Anebom finished a Service counterattack that began in midfield, and Robinson pounced on a Kitagawa giveaway and beat the lone defender to provide a comfortable halftime cushion.
The 6-foot-2 Robinson capped his hat trick in the second half when he scored on a header after the ball took a big bounce on the artificial turf.
And this is how charmed the Cougars seemed: sophomore Ian Kroloff's second-half goal - he lofted a shot over Kitagawa - came just as Rufner had another player ready to substitute for Kroloff.
Robinson had no trouble explaining why Service raised its game at the most critical time of the season, when the top three finishers in the tournament qualify for the state tournament.
"Playoffs,'' Robinson said. "That's probably the best game we've played all season.''
Craig Briske earned the shutout with a couple of nifty second-half saves. He dove to his left to punch away one shot and later leaped to punch a shot over the crossbar.
Raguindin said the Cougars were well motivated to advance.
"We didn't want to turn in our jerseys today, and we're really ambitious for state,'' he said.
Service's victory earned it a semifinal shot Friday against top-seeded Dimond, and Raguindin said beating the Lynx will require duplicating Thursday's effort and performance.
"If we play just like this against them, and play hard, we can beat them, but you have to do all that because they are really good,'' Raguindin said.
Dimond 11, Bartlett 0
The top-seeded Dimond boys continued an impressive soccer season Thursday, posting an 11-0 victory over eighth-seeded Bartlett in the first round of the CIC tournament at South High.
Bartlett played strong in the early going, but Dimond freshman Josh Ahn ignited a 5-0 first-half run when he struck for the match's first goal.
Dimond kept things rolling in the second half, with senior Connor Toohey tacking on the final score.
South 5, Eagle River 0
Nathan Chartier scored twice Thursday to help the second-seeded South boys cruise past seventh-seeded Eagle River 5-0 in a first-round CIC tournament match at South High.
Zak Naylor, Eyob Imlach and Lucas Seymour each provided goals in the first half.
West 7, Eagle River 0 Seven different players scored for West in Thursday’s 7-0 opening-round win over Eagle River at South High. Muharem Selimi, Henry Vasquez, Gjergj Lena, Carson Klever, Keanuu Eraso, Abduraman Dauda, Joshua Contreras all contributed goals.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.