As dominant as the Dimond Lynx have been during the Cook Inlet Conference boys soccer season, it isn't often goalie Arturo Oberto is called upon to make clutch saves in the closing minutes of a match.
When the Lynx needed him Saturday, however, Oberto came through big-time, making a diving save on a Zak Naylor penalty kick in stoppage time to preserve a 2-1 win over South in the CIC title match at Eagle River High.
"I was nervous, to be honest," Oberto said. "Luckily, I know Zak and I know he likes to go to my right."
Oberto guessed correctly and when Naylor blasted a low kick to the left side of the net, Oberto's outstretched arms were there to repel the ball.
The top three finishers from the CIC tournament each earn a spot in next week's state tournament, so Dimond and South were already assured a spot. West defeated Service 2-0 in Saturday's third-place match to earn the final bid.
The Lynx have won two straight CIC titles and three of the last four, developing a healthy rivalry with South in the process. Dimond beat the Wolverines in last season's CIC title match and the Wolverines avenged the loss by knocking Dimond out of the state tournament in a semifinal match.
Dimond has won two of three meetings this season by a combined score of 6-5 and its only loss was a 2-1 setback to the Wolverines.
"Every game against South has been the funnest of the year," Dimond coach John Oliver said. "I think it was entertaining today. You heard a lot of oohs and ahhs."
Dimond maintained better control of the ball than South on Saturday, but after the Lynx took a 2-0 lead on second-half goals from Travis Merritt and Brock Crowe, the Wolverines unleashed an aggressive attack that produced several opportunities to score.
"We go all-out to the last whistle," Naylor said.
South's only goal came on a free kick from Lucas Seymour, who curled a shot around Oberto from the right wing in the 75th minute.
There were several collisions in the closing minutes as players frantically battled for the ball. One collision led to a foul on Dimond, setting up the Naylor penalty kick.
Naylor said he was disappointed South couldn't capitalize on its chances. On a couple of second-half scrambles in front of the Dimond net, the ball bounced free just a foot or two from the goal line, begging to be tapped across for a score. Somehow the Lynx always managed to get to the ball first.
"They're a great team, so we had to work hard," Oberto said.
South's narrowest miss came in the first half when Hayden Western lobbed a short, soft shot over Oberto's head. The ball bounced high off the turf behind Oberto and hit the cross bar.
Merritt put Dimond up 1-0 in the 50th minute, booting a bounding ball into the upper netting from about 15 yards out.
Merritt said he just did what his coach has told him to do all season -- shoot on the first touch whenever possible. Though Merritt appeared off-balance on the shot, he said it was easier than it looked.
"It came right to me," he said.
Crowe added some insurance for the Lynx when he broke free for a one-on-one with South goalie Griffin Toomey in the 62nd minute. Crowe made a little fake to the right and easily deposited the ball into the left of the goal.
"I was pretty surprised I was that open," Crowe said.
Dimond had its share of narrow misses as well, and Oliver said the Lynx have plenty to work on before the state tournament.
"We play really nice soccer, but we don't always get all our goals," he said. "We create a lot of chances, but we need to finish more."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Goalkeepers -- 1) Robert Heredia, West; 2) Arturo Oberto, Dimond. Defenders -- 1) Matt Froehlich, Dimond; 2) Carson Klever, West; 3) Ronald Perry, South; 4) Rian Phillips, East. Midfielders -- 1) Max Osgood, West; 2) Addie Platt, Eagle River; 3) Michael Sedor, Dimond; 4) Hayden Western, South. Forwards -- 1) Paul Matyas, East; 2) Travis Merritt, Dimond; 3) Zak Naylor, South; 4) Jack Sedor, Dimond. Utility -- 1) Brock Crowe, Dimond; 2) Adam Klie, Service; 2) Danny Kreilkamp, East; 4) Connor Stearns, West.
Goalkeepers -- 1) Brody Montoya, Eagle River; 2) Griffin Toomey, South. Defenders -- 1) Adam Eberhart, South; 2) Kirby Graff, Service; 3) Cory Snyder, Dimond; 4) Taylor Zietlow, South. Midfielders -- 1) Felipe Costa, East; 2) Austin Portch, Dimond; 3) Fatos Redzepi, West; 4) Brady Sanders, Chugiak. Forwards -- 1) Josh Contreras, West; 2) Joao Gomez, Bartlett; 3) Patrick Prior, Eagle River; 4) Kevin Waterman, Eagle River. Utility -- 1) Jorge Alvarenga, East; 2) John Bassler, South; 3) Quinn Hulse, Eagle River; 4) Yeng Loi, Bartlett.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News