WASILLA -- Somebody had to score a goal eventually, and South's Brendan Jester found himself in the right place at the right time Friday, flipping in a game-winner against West in a 1-0 semifinal victory at the Class 4A state hockey tournament.
The game remained tied at the Menard Ice Arena nearly five minutes into the third period, but Jester's goal was enough to send 2011 state champion South into Saturday's title game against defending champion Dimond.
South's Tyler Onstott set up the winner when he fired a shot from point-blank range. It appeared West's freshman goalie Joe Chekan made a great save, but the puck fell to the ice and sat still in front of the net, where Jester pushed it across the goal line with 10:07 left to play.
"I thought I had it underneath my elbow and I guess it dropped and they found it," Chekan said. "I couldn't see it. I was waiting for the ref to blow (the whistle)."
South, the tournament's top seed from the Cook Inlet Conference, went 17-0 in league play, including the three wins it took to claim a CIC championship last week. When the game was scoreless after two periods, Jester said, there was no panic in the locker room.
"We knew we had confidence in ourselves and would be able to get it done," he said. "It was a good team effort and I don't think anyone really doubted themselves throughout the game,"
West has had a flare for the dramatic in post-season play, getting a double-overtime victory in the first round of last week's CIC championships to earn a state-tournament berth and another double-overtime victory Thursday to advance to the semifinals.
"We had a very emotional two-overtime game last night," West coach Nathan Shasby said. "I could tell a couple times, especially in the third, the shifts started getting shorter and the kids started getting a little more fatigued."
West will play for third-place against Service on Saturday, and, though they were disappointed to see their championship bid end, Chekan said the Eagles are looking forward to another game.
"The season's not over yet," he said.
South and Dimond have played each other twice this season, with South prevailing each time. An early season meeting ended with a dramatic 4-3 South win in which the Wolverines scored two goals late in the third period. South won 3-1 in a late-season match.
"They're a great team," South coach Steve Belde said. "We know what each other has and we know what we need to bring, so that's the nice thing."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS