The Soldotna girls beat Palmer 40-35 on Friday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage to advance to the fourth-place game at the Class 4A state basketball tournament.
The Stars got off to a slow start, trailing 8-6 after the first quarter, but came on strong in the second, outscoring Palmer 17-11.
“Yesterday and today we shot very poor, and I don’t know we win games shooting that poor,” Soldotna head coach Doug Blossom said. “But they have heart, and it was our defense that I have to credit for the win.”
Even with strong defense, the shooting problems led to some tense moments. SoHi finished 37 percent from the floor, while Palmer was 28 percent from the floor. Palmer had 21 turnovers to Soldotna’s 13, but was able to post a 43-33 advantage on the boards.
“They got pretty close, and our pressure dropped a bit near the end, and I told them to be strong, get the ball because they’re going to foul you,” Blossom said. “And then we get to the free-throw line and miss how many free throws at the end? I was at least pretty confident that we were going to make our free throws at the end.”
Soldotna completed 5 of 13 free-throw attempts.
Palmer broke a tie to take the lead at 29-27 with 4 minutes, 32 seconds, left in the game, but that did not stand long, as sophomore Kelci Benson dropped a 3-pointer with 4:19 left to take the lead for the final time.
Junior Kaillee Skjold led the Stars to the win with 19 points of her own, and she credited the defensive effort for saving the game.
“We have fun playing defense, and we have fun playing the whole game, but defense is something we strive for,” Skjold said. “It’s pretty intense, definitely high pressure, and a lot of just trying to stay together as a group of five.”
Soldotna will now go head-to-head with Dimond on Saturday at 12:20 p.m. to determine the fourth-place team in the tournament. That game is at the UAA Wells Fargo Center.
“Our goal all along was to play on Saturday, but we didn’t accomplish it the way we wanted to,” Blossom said. “Either way, we’re going to play a team we haven’t played all year, so that’s nice.”
With the confidence Skjold possesses for herself and her team, Saturday’s matchup is shaping up to be a close game.
“I know Dimond has some pretty good posts, so we’ll be on the run and gun to try and stop that,” Skjold said.
ASAA First National Bank Alaska Basketball State Championships
Stars 40, Moose 35
SOLDOTNA (40) — Benson 3 0-1 8, Kress 1 0-1 2, Litchfield 2 1-3 5, Wong 0 0-0 0, Kerkvliet 0 0-0 0, Westerman 3 0-0 6, Skjold 7 4-8 19. Totals 16 5-13 40.
PALMER (35) — Scott 1 3-4 5, Jensen 0 0-0 0, Koehn 4 2-4 12, Blake 0 0-0 0, Whitfield 2 3-6 9, Straight 0 0-0 0, Brandenburg 3 1-2 7, Huffman 1 0-1 2. Totals 11 9-17 35.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Benson 2, Skjold 1); Palmer 4 (Koehn 2, Whitfield 2).
Team fouls — Soldotna 13, Palmer 17. Fouled out — Whitfield.