The Kenai Central Kardinals and Soldotna Stars provided the community with another round of dazzling basketball Saturday at Kenai, as the Stars swept their rivals in the Northern Lights Conference action.
The SoHi boys edged out Kenai 40-36, which came after the SoHi girls took a 33-24 win over the Lady Kards.
Cory Carver had a big effort and scored 22 points to lead the Stars. Kenai’s leading scorer was Wyatt Fitt with 13 points.
“Cory was phenomenal today,” said SoHi coach Matt Johnson. “He’s a great senior leader and a kid who never backs down and he shows up and works hard every day, and incredibly unselfish. He took a lot of shots with contact in the second half.”
Kenai started with a bang, quickly grabbing a 12-7 lead six minutes into the game. It wouldn’t last long, as SoHi tied it up halfway through the second quarter, and took a slim 20-19 lead into the half.
“It was closer than we wanted but we ended up finishing strong,” Carver said. “You just can’t back down, you have to keep playing the way you’ve been playing.”
There were 12 lead changes and four ties in the game, and five lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
“The third quarter, we got so many good looks, it was unbelievable, and we just couldn’t get them to fall,” said Kenai coach Ken Felchle. “I mean, the number of quality possessions and quality shots we had in the third quarter was remarkable. If this was a hockey game, if I were to look at the shot chart in the third quarter, I know we outshot them a lot. We just couldn’t get them to go. That hurt us, because we had an opportunity to take a lead and build on it. The kids still fought and worked really hard.”
Clinging to a 26-25 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Johnson said it was a matter of whether the Stars could get through Kenai’s tough defense.
“Ken does a really good job with these guys,” Johnson said. “Defensively, he had them playing really hard, and you know points are going to be hard to come by anytime you play Kenai. With Shane Spalding in the back, he protects the rim very well. I thought we had good looks that weren’t able to go in.”
Spalding ended up with nine points, but it was a mistake of his that turned the momentum in the waning minutes of the game.
With the game tied at 34, Spalding took the ball downcourt with 90 seconds to play, but bobbled the ball and turned it over to SoHi’s Noah Fowler, who ran it back to score on a layup with 1:26 left.
After that, it was up to Carver to knock down a couple free throws to put the game out of reach for the Stars.
“I just went up and shot free throws like I have every time,” Carver said. “We have Palmer next weekend, and so this is a good start. It’s the end of the season.”
Kenai fell to 8-12 on the season, and 1-7 in the Northern Lights Conference, and are guaranteed to be seeded sixth in the NLC.
Soldotna improved its record to 11-9 overall, and more importantly, 4-5 in the NLC. The Stars are in a tight battle for the third seed with Wasilla for that spot.
Soldotna girls 33, Kenai 24
The Lady Stars survived the Kenai defense to post another win on Saturday at Kenai, led by senior Kaillee Skjold with 11 points.
The victory, which improved SoHi to 13-8 overall, 2-5 in the NLC, was important because at this point in the season, the Stars need as many wins as they can get to boost their Win Percentage Index, which helps to seed the teams for the conference tournament.
“We were ready, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” SoHi coach Doug Blossom said. “This game is huge for us, and the last game against Homer on Friday night is huge. For us to stay in contention, we need both of these games, and even so, we’ll probably end up playing on Thursday at regions.”
The Kardinals didn’t let the Stars race out to a big lead early, getting buckets from Carly Norvelle and Hannah Barcus in the first half to keep within range of SoHi. Barcus led Kenai with eight points, while Cassie Ross had seven and Norvelle had four.
“I credit their defense, they just work hard,” Blossom said. “We missed taking advantage of easy situations and easy shots. I think they made some tough shots, which kept them close enough, and so whenever it’s a close game, both teams have confidence, so it’s going to be a good game.”
Trailing 17-11 at the break, the Kards managed to get as close as 20-16 as late as 2:24 left in the third quarter, but that was the last straw for SoHi. The Stars found points from Skjold from there on out, and the Stars eased to a win.
Stars 40, Kardinals 36
Soldotna 10 10 6 14 —40
Kenai 14 5 6 11 —36
SOLDOTNA (40) — Carver 8 4-4 22, Penrod 2 1-3 5, Tovoli 0 0-0 0, Young 1 0-0 3, Conradi 1 2-2 4, Kruse 0 0-0 0, Martin 1 0-0 2, Fowler 1 0-1 2, McElroy 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 7-10 40.
KENAI (36) — Fitt 4 4-4 13, J. McKee 4 0-2 9, Spalding 3 3-3 9, Battistelli 1 0-0 3, Berg 0 0-0 0, O’Neal 1 0-0 2, Kibling 0 0-0 0, Liedes 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 7-9 36.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Carver 2, Young 1); Kenai 3 (Fitt 1, J. McKee 1, Battistelli 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 14; Kenai 16. Fouled out — none.
Stars 33, Kardinals 24
Soldotna 8 9 8 8 —33
Kenai 6 5 5 8 —24
SOLDOTNA (33) — Skjold 3 3-4 11, Benson 1 3-4 6, Kerkvliet 3 0-0 6, Westerman 3 0-1 6, Litchfield 0 0-0 0, Kress 0 0-0 0, Wong 2 0-0 4, Hendricks 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 6-9 33.
KENAI (24) — Barcus 3 2-4 8, Ross 3 0-0 7, Norvelle 2 0-0 4, Taylor 2 0-1 4, English 0 1-2 1, Ostrander 0 0-0 0, Steinbeck 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 3-7 24.
3-point goals — Soldotna 3 (Skjold 2, Benson 1); Kenai 1 (Ross).
Team fouls — Soldotna 13; Kenai 14. Fouled out — Taylor, Norvelle.