The most wonderfully unexpected and rewarding thing happened to Ariela Lewis on Friday afternoon: Serendipity touched her.
After Lewis endured 50 minutes of frustration against Soldotna's stern back line, the soccer ball found her as much as she found it, and the Dimond striker's subsequent goal kick-started the Lynx to a 2-0 semifinal victory over Soldotna in the girls state tournament.
Undefeated Dimond (16-0-0) advanced to Saturday's 3:15 p.m. championship game against Service (11-4-2), which cruised to the final courtesy of a 7-0 lashing of Colony.
Dimond and Soldotna were locked in a scoreless tie on the pitch at sun-splashed Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in the second half at Chugiak -- granted, the Lynx dominated possession -- when another Dimond attack sputtered and left Stars goalkeeper Katelynn Kerkvliet with a goal kick.
Lewis was heading back up the field, her back to Kerkvliet, and talking and gesturing to a teammate when she heard her name shouted. Lewis glanced over her right shoulder and spotted Kerkvliet's low, errant kick headed her way.
"I was trying to tell my teammate to come across to my side because we switch,'' Lewis said. "Someone yelled my name and I turned, and the ball was there, and I took off. I was like, 'Wow.'
"I headed it down and thought, 'Now what?' ''
Lewis, a senior who is exceptionally quick and dogged, busted forward with possession as Kerkvliet recovered back toward her net without aid from her defense, which was caught as unaware as Lewis had been until she heard her name called.
Lewis veered left on her breakaway and cranked a left-footed blast into the right side of the net.
"I've never had that happen before, with no other defenders near me, no other teammates near me,'' said an incredulous Lewis.
That fortuitous break fundamentally changed the game and forced the Stars to press forward in search of a tying goal. To that point, Soldotna played as many as five defenders across its back line and stymied Dimond's attack time and again with poise.
"They were keeping a high line back there and keeping it composed,'' Dimond coach Carolyn Savage said of the Stars.
Soldotna sophomore Alex Ashe proved especially vigilant in defense, her play nearly flawless and earning her the player of the game award for her side.
"They were amazing, especially No. 5,'' Lewis said, complimenting Ashe. "She was so nice, so respectful, and she played great, clean D.''
With Dimond's lead still at 1-0, Soldotna freshman defender Anna Wrobel cleared the ball from near her line with. Dimond sophomore midfielder Lauren Cole drilled a follow-up shot, off an assist from Aaliyah Lewis, Areila's twin, into the right side of the net to give her team a 2-0 cushion.
Lynx goalkeeper Katelyn Sweeney went largely untested, but twice bolted out far from her net in the second half to thwart potential scoring chances for the Stars.
After the game, Savage implored her players to get rest, ample fluids and to take ice baths to lessen the physical damage from two tough matches in two days. Dimond beat South, 3-1 in overtime, in Thursday's opener.
"They're going to be tired if they don't get the proper recovery,'' Savage said.
Service enjoyed a much easier path to the championship game. The Cougars dispatched Colony after beating Thunder Mountain, 5-0, in an opening-round match Thursday.
The Cougars, who have 16 freshmen and sophomores on their 21-player roster, received hat tricks from sophomore Haleigh Van Allen and freshman Madasin Jennings, and a single goal from sophomore Kerianne Hansen.
"For as inexperienced as they could be, they're really talented,'' Service coach Mark Cascolan said of his young crew. "They have technical ability and understand tactics, and they're really coachable and hungry.''
Van Allen said it's exciting to be a part of a storied program -- Service has won 17 of 31 state championships since 1982, its last coming in 2009.
"We want to build the program, and being so young, we can do that,'' Van Allen said. "The seniors are leading the juniors'' -- one junior, actually -- "and the juniors lead the sophomores, and the sophomores lead the freshmen.''
Next up for the Cougars are the Lynx, who earned 6-3 and 4-0 wins over Service in the Cook Inlet Conference regular season.
Cascolan said as much as his club improved from Thursday to Friday, it will have to be even better against Dimond.
"We definitely have to make sure we stay organized and disciplined in the back,'' he said. "We need to do everything we did (Friday), but just quicker.''
For the Lynx, meanwhile, excruciating ice baths awaited.
"You've got to love the pain,'' said Ariela Lewis. "You've got to get in there and think, 'I ache everywhere, so I did give all I could.' ''
South 3, Grace Christian 0
Two-time defending state champion South handled Grace Christian 3-0 in a consolation game at Eagle River to advance to Saturday's fourth-place game.
Morgan Hooe, Kayla Sims and Cydney Lagomarsino scored goals for the Wolverines.
West Valley 2, Thunder Mountain 0
West Valley moved into Saturday's fourth-place game against South with a 2-0 victory over Thunder Mountain at Eagle River.
Audrey Wade and Maddison Ackiss each had a goal and an assist for the Wolfpack.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY