WASILLA — Sometimes it comes down to which team is on the biggest roll heading into the conference championships.
The Soldotna Stars might be that team.
After capping an impressive regular season with a trio of key conference wins, the Stars opened up the tourney with a 52-36 win over the Palmer Moose during the first day of the Northern Lights Conference Championships at Wasilla High School.
“Going into this game, I thought we played the three best games of the season going into this game,” Soldotna head coach Doug Blossom said of late wins over Colony, Palmer and Kenai. “It was a great momentum builder, great confidence builder.”
Junior Kaillee Skjold scored a game-high 17 points for the Stars, who moved into the semifinals to face Kodiak today at 3 p.m. Skjold scored eight of her 17 points in the first quarter, and helped Soldotna jump to an early 12-5 lead.
Skjold — who also collected five rebounds, three blocks and two steals — is a difference maker, Blossom said.
“In my opinion, she’s the best player in our conference all-around,” Blossom said. “They reason I say that is she plays (positions) 1 through 5.
“She doesn’t just play on the wing, she doesn’t just play at the point, she doesn’t just play in the post. She plays all three and she does a very good job at all three.”
Sophomore Julie Litchfield also scored 13 for the Stars, who shot 52 percent from the floor during the first half and 48 percent in the game.
The last time these two teams met, Soldotna shot 74 percent against Palmer.
“I think we’re feeling more relaxed, feeling less pressure,” Blossom said. “We’ve had a good year. When it’s relaxed, you shoot with confidence.”
While he’s happy with his offense, Blossom said his defense is what stood out.
“We play pretty aggressive defense,” Blossom said.
That defense kept pressure on the Moose throughout. Palmer scored only five points in the first quarter and 10 points in the first half, while shooting 17 percent during the first two quarters.
Junior Taylor Blake was able to sink a big three early in the game to give the Moose the 3-2 lead, but Soldotna followed with a quick six-point run to grab the momentum.
Skjold scored Soldotna’s final six points of the first quarter.
Blake led the Moose with 14 points in the game. The junior hit six shots from the field, including a pair of threes. Soldotna held Blake, one of the leading scorers in the conference, to single digits in scoring during the last meeting.
Brook Simmerman and Tress Whitfield added six points each for Palmer. Caitlin Scott chipped in five.
Palmer can still finish as high as fourth in the tourney. The Moose meet Homer today at 8 a.m. at Wasilla High. A win this morning would move the Moose into the fourth-place match.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at email@example.com.
Stars 52, Moose 36
Soldotna 12 12 20 7 —52
Palmer 5 5 10 16 —36
Soldotna (52) — Benson 0 3-4 3, Litchfield 6 1-2 13, Wong 1 1-2 3, Kervleit 4 2-4 10, Westerman 3 0-0 6, Skjold 7 3-3 17. Totals — 21 10-15 52.
Palmer (36) — Simmerman 1 3-3 6, Scott 2 1-2 5, Blake 6 2-3 14, Whitfield 1 4-4 6, Straight 0 1-2 1, Brandenburg 1 2-4 4. Totals — 11 11-18 36.
Three-point field goals — Soldotna 0, Palmer 3 (Blake 2, Simmerman 1). Total fouls — Soldotna 15, Palmer 14. Fouled out — none.