The host Soldotna boys basketball team opened up its season with a 47-35 victory Friday over a Bartlett team that finished fifth at the Class 4A state tournament last season, losing in overtime in the semifinals to eventual champion Dimond.
Well, not that Bartlett team exactly. The Golden Bears lost 11 of 12 players off of that squad. But SoHi coach Matt Johnson will still take a win over an Anchorage school with a respected basketball tradition any day.
"This was a great team win," Johnson said.
The Stars jumped all over the Golden Bears early, then withstood a fourth-quarter charge to pick up the win.
When Josiah Martin scored a layup with 5:06 left in the second quarter, SoHi had a 21-9 lead. At that point, Bartlett was 4 of 19 from the floor.
Bartlett head coach Greg Fullmer said his team has not had a chance to practice much. He said the team had only been able to get in five or six practices after tryouts concluded.
But Fullmer also gave credit to Soldotna and his friend Johnson for playing a great game.
"Soldotna is a good team," Fullmer said. "They are a better team than their coach said they were. He said they still have a lot of work to do in some areas."
Johnson said his team did a good job of limiting penetration and second-chance opportunities on defense. He said big men Daniel McElroy, Martin and Preston Penrod kept the boards clean. Martin led with 12 rebounds, while Penrod had eight.
On offense, the Stars went 9 of 21 from the floor in the first half in taking a 26-16 lead.
"We had great spacing on offense, and, for the most part, we were patient," Johnson said.
The first threat to SoHi's lead came in the third quarter when Cory Carver, who paced the Stars with 18 points, rolled his ankle with 4:46 to play — at which time he had scored 16 of his team's 26 points. Just 30 seconds later, Bartlett's B.J. McCoy hit a rebound layup to cut the gap to 26-20.
But by the time Carver came back on the floor for the final minute of the third period, SoHi had expanded the lead to 36-24.
"The kids on the bench did great," Johnson said. "Whoever stepped on the floor did exactly what we needed on defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball."
In the fourth quarter, Bartlett again charged back into the game by opening the period on a 10-1 run that concluded when Iziah Sherman-Newsome, the lone returner for the Bears, hit a 3-pointer with 4:23 left for a 37-35 game.
However, Penrod, who finished with 13 points, sparked a 10-0, game-closing run for the Stars with a pair of layups.
"He came over from Skyview and the kids really enjoy having him around," Johnson said of Penrod. "He has a great motor and he's very long. He always seems to be around the ball."
When Bartlett got in a big hole early, the Bears started a full-court press in the second quarter. Fullmer said that his team may have run out of gas in the final four minutes.
"That's tough to do so early in the season because they're not in game shape yet," he said of pressing for more than half the game.
SoHi was able to close out the Bears despite struggling from the foul line all night. The Stars finished 13 of 30 from the charity stripe, including 7 of 13 in the final period.
Fullmer did see a couple of things he liked from the Bears, who were led by Sherman-Newsome's 13 points.
"There are two things I'm proud of — we played hard and we never quit," he said. "We just need more practice time."
Stars 47, Golden Bears 35
BARTLETT (35) — Light 1 0-0 3, White 1 0-0 2, Rowland 3 0-0 9, Irving 0 0-0 0, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Ruble 0 0-0 0, Sherman-Newsome 3 0-1 6, McCoy 3 0-1 6, Romero-Lewis 0 0-0 0. Totals — 15 0-2 35.
SOLDOTNA (47) — Tovoli 0 0-0 0, Penrod 5 2-6 13, Young 0 2-8 2, Carver 5 6-7 18, Spence 1 1-3 3, Kruse 2 0-0 5, Martin 1 2-4 4, McElroy 1 0-2 2. Totals — 15 13-30 47.
3-point goals — Bartlett 5 (Rowland 3, Light, Sherman-Newsome), Soldotna 4 (Carver 2, Penrod, Kruse). Team fouls — Bartlett 23, Soldotna 11. Fouled out — White, McCoy.