The Colony girls basketball team escaped with a narrow 47-46 win over Soldotna in Saturday’s third-place game of the Northern Lights Conference tournament.
The final seconds of the game ended in a furious scramble under Colony’s net as the Stars tried to tip in a game winner, but heavy contact that was not called by the officials as the buzzer sounded sent Colony to the locker rooms as the winners.
SoHi guard Kaillee Skjold’s 16 points led the Stars, but Colony’s Mary Klapperich was able to lead all scorers with 19.
Even with the loss, Soldotna remains in solid position to qualify for the state tournament, less than two weeks away. As of Saturday afternoon, Soldotna was sitting in sixth place in the Win Percentage Index (WPI) standings, which is calculated by averaging the teams win percentage and their opponent’s win percentage.
A variety of factors could knock SoHi out of state, but the biggest is the Mid-Alaska Conference tournament in Fairbanks. West Valley toppled top-seeded Lathrop 53-45 on Saturday, which means the Wolfpack clinched a state berth.
As of Saturday afternoon, Lathrop was seeded fifth in the WPI — above Soldotna — while West Valley was ninth. In the MAC tournament, only one (the championship team) qualifies for state, so Lathrop’s loss means the final state berth is going to come down to either them or SoHi, as Colony is almost guaranteed a spot due to their WPI position.
But on Saturday, all the Stars were worried about was winning the game. Colony streaked out to an 18-6 lead in the first quarter, but SoHi clawed its way back.
In the second quarter, SoHi went on a 12-0 run that knotted the game up at 22 apiece, but Colony still held a one-point lead at halftime (27-26).
Soldotna owned the third quarter, beginning with 10 unanswered points that put the Stars up by nine. However, the Knights put up a rally of their own to take what ultimately became the final lead change with 36 seconds left in the period.
“It hurt us when Kaillee had four fouls and we had to sit her,” said SoHi coach Doug Blossom. “If I had to do it over again, I would play her. We had about an eight-point lead, so it was a tough call.”
With under a minute remaining in the game, Colony held a 47-43 lead after Faith Farris made one of two free throws. Both teams transitioned to the other end of the court, and junior guard Kelci Benson connected on a monster 3 to make it a one-point game with 31 seconds left.
Soldotna junior Julie Litchfield fouled trying to stop Klapperich’s layup with 27 ticks left, but Klapperich missed both free-throw attempts.
After Blossom called a timeout with 11.8 seconds left, it was up to the Stars to work their magic.
Benson let loose another arcing 3-pointer, but it bounced off the rim and into the hands of Kaillee Skjold, who dumped it off to Heidi Westerman, and she attempted to get in a layup before the buzzer, but was blocked in the chaos by a Colony defender. The clock ran out, but many fans were calling for a foul, and the officials quickly left the gym.
Blossom, who typically isn’t one to criticize the officials, was not pleased with how the game ended.
“We basically were going to run our normal offense,” Blossom said about the final possession. “I thought Makayla (Wong) had some open looks down low, I thought Heidi or Katelynn (Kerkvliet) could get an open elbow shot, and I thought Kelci took a good open shot at the end and I thought it was going in. I thought Kaillee got a good rebound and got it to a teammate who put up a good shot. I thought the refs kind of dodged a bullet by running out of the gym.
“You don’t ever hear me say anything bad about refs, but that was a bad no-call. Let the kids decide. Make the call, she hits a free throw, see what happens, if she misses, then it’s over. I don’t think anyone in the gym would argue the foul.”
Colony coach Jeff Bowker said he was not surprised in the least about the close nature of the game, and was relieved about the call at the end.
“I wanted to make sure we were in the gaps to stop Kaillee and any of her dribbles in the gaps, and they run that stagger high-four scheme that we talked about,” Bowker said. “We said that we got to get our hands up and we were able to stop her, but then Benson got that look, and I was like, ‘Oh lord’.
“You can’t tell at the end of a game like that, the ball’s going everywhere, everyone’s going hard for the ball. I imagine if you’re on one bench, everyone’s calling for something, and if you’re on my bench, you’re glad the clock ran out.”
Blossom was able to put a positive spin on things by saying that he was pleased with the effort of his team.
“Bottom line on this one, I thought the kids fought hard, played together and we gave (Colony) some easy shots early in the game, and they hit them, but we got into our rhythm and started coming back,” he said.
Soldotna boys 76, Kodiak 56
The Stars made Saturday’s victory look easy — at least compared to the girls game — as they hit nearly half of their shots to take third place.
Once again, senior guard Cory Carver led the way for Soldotna with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds. Senior teammate Noah Fowler added 18 points and Colton Young put up 11.
Kodiak’s Josh Obas and Elijah Hiner each had 15 points to pace the Bears, and Hiner grabbed 11 boards as well.
SoHi coach Matt Johnson was particularly pleased with the defensive play of Fowler, Max Conradi and Austin Kruse, as the trio held Kodiak forward Austin Frick scoreless the entire game.
“We shot really well, but again, Noah, Max and Austin held Frick to zero points, and he only got three shots up, and that’s a kid who had 28 and 26 against us earlier in the year, I think,” Johnson said. “He’s really put up some points against us this year, so for them to take him out of the game was a huge shot for us.
“They’re a great group of kids, we’ve received a lot of compliments this weekend, and everyone has seen how hard they work. It’s one of the best group of kids I’ve been around. I feel like we peaked this week, and we’ve played our best basketball at this tournament.”
Soldotna’s chances of qualifying for the state tournament are slim due to their ranking in the WPI standings.
Johnson also said he wanted to recognize the seniors on the team — Jared Tovoli, Preston Penrod, Carver, Josiah Martin and Fowler — for their contributions in the tournament and throughout the season.
The biggest differences in Saturday’s game was shooting. Soldotna took an outstanding 30 shots from 3-point land, and converted on 14, meaning the Stars had 42 points on 3s alone, while Kodiak had none. Colton Young, Kruse and Fowler had three each.
SoHi also outrebounded Kodiak 43 (30 defensive) to 31, and scored when it counted the most, putting up 25 points in the third quarter.
Nonetheless, Kodiak coach David Anderson left with a positive attitude.
“We came into this tournament with the attitude of getting the first win, and hope we play well enough to beat Palmer (on Friday),” Anderson said. “There were a couple of things that went on in that game, it was close.
“We’ve played (Soldotna) a couple times this year so they’ve obviously set up for us. They shot well tonight, and if they had shot that well last night we wouldn’t have played them. They’re a good shooting team. I think the game yesterday took a lot out of our guys.”
Wasilla girls 61, Kodiak 29
The Northern Lights Conference championship came down to the top-two seeded teams on Saturday night, and it was the ever-dominant Warriors cruising to an easy win.
Alysha Devine led Wasilla with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and teammate Alexis Imoe added 17. Kyle Dinkle also had eight points but grabbed 11 rebounds.
Hannah Wandersee led Kodiak’s effort with eight points and six rebounds.
Wasilla started with a 21-8 lead in the first quarter and didn’t stop there. After going another 10 points without Kodiak answering, Wasilla stretched its lead to 24 points at halftime, amassing 40 at that point.
Wasilla also got 34 points off of turnovers, while Kodiak had nine.
Wasilla and Kodiak will be the NLC representatives at the state basketball tournament in two weeks, and Soldotna could be the third.
Palmer boys 63, Colony 54
Like the girls NLC championship, the boys featured the top two teams, but it was the lower-seeded of the two that came out ahead in this mild upset on Saturday.
The Moose rallied back from an eight-point lead late in the first half to take the championship, but both teams will compete in the state tournament two weeks’ time.
Connor Looney put up a big 25 points to lead Palmer, and was followed by teammate Brian Selmer with 17. Hunter Eisenhower paced Colony with 19 points.
The biggest hindrance Colony suffered from was 15 turnovers, compared to only eight for Palmer.
Trailing 31-26 at halftime, Palmer put up a 12-2 run in the third quarter, but had to continually fight off threats from Colony. The final lead change happened when Selmer hit a field goal 16 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Stars 76, Bears 56
Soldotna 14 17 25 20 —76
Kodiak 10 12 17 17 —56
SOLDOTNA (76) — Carver 7 3-4 19, N. Fowler 7 1-2 18, Tovoli 1 0-0 3, Penrod 3 0-0 7, Young 4 0-0 11, Conradi 0 0-0 0, Furlong 0 0-0 0, Spence 0 0-0 0, Kruse 3 0-0 9, Martin 3 0-1 7, McElroy 1 0-2 2, D. Fowler 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 4-9 76.
KODIAK (56) — Obas 7 1-2 15, Hiner 6 3-6 15, Mangalus 2 0-4 4, Frick 0 0-0 0, Medina 5 0-2 10, Jimenez 0 0-0 0, Lenon 1 0-0 2, A. Hall 3 0-0 6, T. Hall 0 0-0 0, Mutch 1 0-0 2, Garcia 0 2-2 2. Totals 25 6-16 56.
3-point goals — Soldotna 14 (Young 3, Kruse 3, N. Fowler 3, Carver 2, Tovoli 1, Penrod 1, Martin 1); Kodiak 0.
Team fouls — Soldotna 13; Kodiak 12. Fouled out — none.
Knights 47, Stars 46
Colony 19 8 11 9 —47
Soldotna 10 16 10 10 —46
COLONY (47) — Klapperich 7 1-4 19, Farris 3 2-5 9, Tweed 2 2-2 7, Stephens 1 0-2 2, Turcotte 1 0-0 2, Willardson 0 0-0 0, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Michaelson 1 4-6 6, Solano 1 0-1 2. Totals 16 9-20 47,
SOLDOTNA (46) — Skjold 6 3-5 16, Benson 3 1-2 8, Kress 0 0-0 0, Litchfield 1 0-1 2, Wong 3 2-4 8, Hendricks 0 0-0 0, Kerkvliet 2 0-0 4, Westerman 4 0-0 8. Totals 19 6-12 46.
3-point goals — Soldotna 2 (Skjold 1, Benson 1); Colony 6 (Klapperich 4, Farris 1, Tweed 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 20; Colony 13. Fouled out — Litchfield.