The undefeated Soldotna girls basketball team has overcome a lot of obstacles this season — that includes beating the three-time defending Class 4A state champions Wasilla twice — and on Friday night, SoHi knocked down another formidable foe.
The Stars beat last year’s Class 4A runner-up Dimond Lynx 56-51 at Soldotna High School to improve to a 9-0 overall season record.
Senior Katelynn Kerkvliet was lights out on Friday, hitting 12 of 18 shots from the floor for 24 points, and racked up a double-double along the way with 17 rebounds.
“I think it was my pregame meal,” Kerkvliet quipped. “It was steak and potatoes.”
Senior teammate Julie Litchfield also contributed 14 points and six assists.
“Dimond’s a win that was kind of like Wasilla ... we haven’t beat them in a long time,” said Soldotna coach Doug Blossom. “Dimond in my opinion, along with West Anchorage, is one of the two best teams up there.
“WPI-wise, it’s a huge win, because Dimond will probably beat all the Anchorage teams.”
The Winning Percentage Index is a mathematical formula that determines the two “wild card” teams that get to play in the state tournament each year. Last March, the Stars were the unfortunate team that was booted from state after two missed game scores were added to the mix. Lathrop replaced SoHi in the tournament.
So far this year, the Stars are rolling through their schedule and look to be on pace to be one of the top-seeded teams at the state tournament in March.
“I thought this was a good test for us,” Blossom said. “Beating Wasilla was great, but this was probably a better team. We have Colony next week, which’ll be a big game.”
Soldotna travels to play Northern Lights Conference rival Colony next Friday, and a victory would give the Stars a trifecta over last year’s top three teams at the Class 4A state tournament.
On Friday night, it was two free throws from senior Kelci Benson with three seconds left that ultimately clinched the game, but the action was close throughout.
SoHi staked out an early 15-8 lead late in the first quarter, but Dimond soon caught fire and rode a 15-3 points run to a five-point lead with 4 minutes, 18 seconds, left in the first half.
But after Blossom called a timeout to regroup, Soldotna’s crisp passing game resulted in Kerkvliet getting good looks under the basket, which led to the Stars grabbing a 30-28 lead going into halftime. Kerkvliet had 16 points in the first half.
“She was like a machine in the game,” Blossom said. “It’s nice to see her step up and have a game like that.”
Blossom noted that Kerkvliet is currently looking at playing basketball on the collegiate level.
Tara Thompson led Dimond with 14 points including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
Rohyn Huss added a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards for the Lynx, but Huss also let seven turnovers slip into SoHi’s hands, which proved to be costly.
Trailing Soldotna 41-37 heading into the fourth quarter, the Lynx continually closed the gap but never could manage to take the lead. Three times in the quarter, Dimond trailed by a point.
Kerkvliet put up consecutive layups that resulted in a 50-45 SoHi lead with 2:56 remaining.
After two free throws from Thompson, Neno Martinez caught a rebound and hit a baseline jumper with 1:42 left that closed the gap to one point, and Blossom called a timeout.
“(Coach) said to stay on your man, don’t let them get open, don’t shoot anything that isn’t there,” Kerkvliet said. “I knew we had to come out really hard and it was going to be a tough game.
“I was nervous, I’ll tell you that.”
Makayla Wong’s layup with 1:03 remaining barely edged into the basket, but it helped to put the Stars back up by three points, and Benson took care of the rest with four straight free throws in the final minute.
“Hats off to Soldotna,” said Dimond coach Jim Young. “They’re the real deal.”
Soldotna will face conference rival Kenai Central on Tuesday night.
Stars 56, Lynx 51
Soldotna 15 15 11 15 —56
Dimond 14 14 9 14 —51
SOLDOTNA (56) — Kerkvliet 12 0-1 24, Litchfield 5 3-6 14, Benson 1 4-4 6, Shaw 0 0-0 0, M. Wong 2 0-0 4, L. Wong 2 0-0 5, Hendricks 0 0-2 0, Miller 1 1-2 3. Totals 23 8-15 56.
DIMOND (51) — Huss 5 1-2 11, Tufaga 0 0-0 0, Martinez 5 0-0 10, Thompson 4 4-4 14, Canty 3 1-1 8, Anderson 1 0-0 2, Forrey 2 0-0 6. Totals 20 6-7 51.
3-point field goals — Soldotna 2 (Litchfield 1, L. Wong 1); Dimond 5 (Thompson 2, Forrey 2, Canty 1).
Team fouls — Soldotna 13; Dimond 18.