Sometimes all it takes is one timely goal to win a soccer match and that's all the Dimond boys needed Saturday in the state high school championship at Dimond Alumni Field.
Travis Merritt provided his third match-winning goal in three days on a penalty kick just seconds before halftime and the Lynx defeated Juneau 1-0 to win their fifth state title and first since they defeated Juneau by the same score in 2002.
Merritt's goal closed an impressive first half from both squads and came after he was tackled from behind while tracking down the ball about eight yards in front of the net.
"It was a penalty," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said. "I told the ref afterwards, 'I wish I could say it wasn't, but it was.' "
Merritt fired his free shot right up the middle as Juneau goalie Max Lyons dove to his right, and the ball bounced right over Lyons' outstretched legs and into the net.
"I'm surprised he shot it straight down the middle," Lyons said. "Props to him, because I was not expecting that."
As soon as the ball was put in play at midfield following the goal, the whistle blew to end the half. Dimond was in the driver's seat the rest of the way, making scoring chances scarce for Juneau.
"Goals right before the half are always really crucial, so it was a big boost for us," Dimond senior Michael Sedor said. "It helped us calm down a lot in the second half."
Juneau, winner of the last two state titles and five overall, played into the wind in the second half, and adding Dimond's suffocating defense to that equation made a comeback beyond difficult for the Crimson Bears.
"Clayton Nadon was keeping on their best striker," Dimond sweeper Matt Froehlich said. "He was doing all the dirty work and if anything got by him, I was there to clean up. They didn't go into our defensive third very much."
The windy conditions played to Dimond's advantage as well, Froehlich said, because the Dimond game is all about getting the ball on the ground and keeping it there.
"When the ball is in the air, we have some of the best ball winners in the state," he said.
Both sides played an impressive match that was contested cleanly and with plenty of crisp ball movement, and the Juneau defense did allow Dimond many opportunities to add to the lead. In a season in which Dimond was rarely tested by opponents, Sedor said it was fun to play in such a tough match.
"It's fun in a nerve-wracking way," he said. "You have to constantly make sure you're doing your job."
The match ended with Dimond controlling the ball securely in the Juneau zone. The Lynx erupted in celebration at the final whistle, though they failed in their attempt to empty the water cooler on coach John Oliver's head.
For the 10 Dimond seniors who have helped make Dimond a soccer force in recent years, the win was more than welcome.
"It's a huge relief," Sedor said. "I've been on good teams for all four years and we've come close for four years."
West 2, South 1
West's Abdou Sallah scored with about three minutes remaining Saturday, delivering a 2-1 win for the Eagles in the third-place match.
Homer 4, Colony 0
The Homer boys soccer team capped a strong season with a 4-0 win over Colony in a fourth-place match Saturday.
Homer (13-2-2) was the eighth seed in the tournament, losing by a goal to top-seeded Dimond in the first round and beating Wasilla on Friday to earn a shot at fourth-place.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Boys all-tournament team
Kyler Perry, Wasilla; Jacob Spannagel, Colony; Johnny Joyce, Juneau; Robin Glosser, Homer; Arturo Oberto, Dimond; Zak Naylor, South; Conor Stearns, West; Austin Portch, Dimond; Josh Contreras, West; Hayden Western, South; Lennart Von Schlichting, Homer; Jackson Lehnhart, Juneau; Michael Sedor, Dimond; Travis Merritt, Dimond.
State Soccer Championships
2012 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State High School Soccer Championships
Championship -- Dimond 1, Juneau 0
3rd/5th place -- West 2, South 1
4th/6th place -- Homer 4, Colony 0
Championship -- South 4, West Valley 0
3rd/5th place -- Dimond 1, Soldotna 1 (both awarded 3rd)
4th/6th place -- Service 4, Kenai 0
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News