PALMER — The Soldotna Stars played tough defense and out-rebounded the Palmer Moose for the difficult Northern Lights Conference victory on the road, 43-32, on Friday. The win ends SoHi's regular season and leaves them with a 15-8 overall record, and 5-5 in the NLC.
Taylor Blake and Leya Depriest started the game off with easy buckets down low. That was all the easy offense that Kaillee Skjold and the Soldotna Stars defense would allow.
“Their foot speed was better than ours. They were breaking and coming up with more loose balls than we were. They got a lot of longer rebounds,” said Palmer head coach Paul Reid. “To me the lack of rebounding in the third quarter was pivotal. When momentum swung it was because of our inability to get defensive rebounds.”
Blake has scored more than 1,000 points in her illustrious Palmer career, but her game-high 14 points did not come easy. Blake went 6-of-15 from the free-throw line. For a stretch of about eight minutes in the first half, the only shots Palmer could put in the basket were Blake’s free throws.
Palmer senior guard Caitlin Scott hit two big 3-pointers near the end of the first half. Natalie Kress hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from farther than 30 feet to cut the Palmer lead to three going into halftime.
Soldotna took over in the second half. Skjold, the reigning Northern Lights Conference Co-Player Of the Year, scored only three points, but dominated the game on the defensive end. Skjold’s defense caused trouble for Palmer. DePriest, Palmer’s outstanding freshman post, was held to just two points by the Stars’ interior defense. The Stars locked down Scott on defense. The Moose mustered just six points in the third quarter and five in the decisive fourth. Soldotna shot their free throws down the stretch and had a 15-point fourth quarter.
“We held them to 15 points in the first half which was good defense,” said Reid. “If you give any team two or three chances to score per possession it’s not going to be easy to win.”
Julie Litchfield and Kelci Benson both hit two 3-pointers. Litchfield led the Stars with 12 points, but was by no means the only source of offense. Benson and Katelynn Kerkvliet both added 10 points. Soldotna shot a high percentage on its jump shots, but did not challenge DePriest’s defense at the basket often.
Both teams finished their regular season play. When the conference tournament starts this weekend, the teams will meet again.
Reid feels that his team is very dangerous when March playoff basketball comes around.
“Regions is a new season. We’d like to have more momentum going into regions, but we feel we have a good chance,” he said. “It’s a fresh start, we’ll take it one game at a time. The things we failed to do tonight are easy fixes. I like our chances to be able to beat that team if we can put two halves together.”
Reid said Palmer’s senior star, Blake, will be key to their success.
“Part of our game plan is putting the ball in her hands. She’s an explosive athletic player,” said Reid. “Tonight she was doing a good job getting to the line. She was attacking well and drawing fouls.”
The Moose fell to 13-11 with the loss.
Stars 43, Moose 32
Soldotna 7 11 10 15 —43
Palmer 9 12 6 5 —32
SOLDOTNA (43) — Benson 2 3-4 10, Kress 1 0-0 3, Litchfield 3 4-8 12, Wong 2 1-2 5, Kerkvliet 4 2-4 10, Skjold 1 1-4 3.
PALMER (32) — K. DePriest 1 0-0 2, Scott 3 2-3 10, Straight 1 1-2 4, Blake 4 6-15 14, L. DePriest 1 0-0 2.