Friday night proved why the Seward boys hoops team could be one to watch out for when the Southcentral Conference tournament arrives in two weeks.
The boys topped Nikiski 82-69 in a dazzling display of offense at Nikiski High School, led by the sharpshooting performance of Matt Moore, who put up 34 points.
"My teammates were getting me the ball in spots that I wanted and the shots were just falling," Moore explained. "It felt good.
"When you get in the zone like that, especially right from the get-go, you want to stay in it as much as you can."
The Seahawks improved to 4-3 in the Southcentral Conference with the win, while the Bulldogs dropped to 1-7.
Moore wasn't the only Seahawk with impressive stats. Ronnie Jackson hit all nine free throws he took en route to 18 points, and Alex Pahno and Michael Wolfe had 13 each.
On the other side of the ball, Luke Johnson led Nikiski with 21 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and Seth Carstens scored eight first-quarter points en route to 19 total.
Seward coach Curtis Berry said his squad typically struggles on offense this year, but have been solid on defense, so Friday night's performance was a bit of a puzzler.
"Defense inspires offense, and for us it's always been that way," Berry said. "One thing that we did well tonight that we haven't done is attack the hoop. We had several slashing drives, and that's just not who we've been."
Moore and his teammates found success driving to the rim for layups, one after the other, putting on an acrobatic display for the fans.
"My performance felt great, and team-wise it was a really nice win," Moore said. "We haven't had too many problems (this year), we've had a few bumps in the road but that's how it goes. This win feels nice."
Moore finished the first quarter with 11 points, and ended the first half with 23.
Nikiski was able to drive in the paint on offense too, but the Bulldogs also took more perimeter shots than Seward, and when they needed to make up ground in the fourth quarter, those shots were not falling as easily.
"We weren't super efficient offensively, but we played hard and took advantage of what Seward gave us," said Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad. "I was proud of the way we played, and we put up 69 points. We just can't give up 82."
Both teams started hot, knocking down jumpers and layups to get to a 19-13 Seward lead in the first quarter, and it only got better in the second quarter.
With a combined 43 points in the second frame, the two teams traded buckets, racing back and forth across the court for transition points. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Seward held a 41-34 lead.
"We changed the defense, we went to man," Berry said. "It changed the way (Nikiski) had to play, they had to adapt to that. It worked a little bit, and it also gave us better box-out capabilities."
Nikiski started the second half the way they needed to — with a 3-pointer from Hunter Holloway only 10 seconds in. With 5:08 left in the third quarter, Nikiski took a brief 43-42 lead when Cade Anderson sunk a trey.
However, Seward took the lead back shortly after and never looked back.
Leading 55-49 going into the fourth quarter, the Seahawks took off on an 11-2 run that finally put some distance between them and the Bulldogs, and from there, Nikiski never got closer than seven points.
Berry and Kornstad both expressed the belief that after Anchorage Christian and Grace Christian schools, the competition in the conference is wide open.
"I think it's anybody's game," Berry said. "There's two frontrunners with Grace and ACS, but for everybody else, it's going to be a brawl."
Nikiski girls 39, Seward 30
Earlier in the evening, the Nikiski girls kept the Seahawks on their toes with a win, improving their record to 16-3 (6-1 conference). Seward dropped to 11-9 (5-2 conference).
"We're still learning how to play four quarters," said Nikiski coach Scott Anderson. "We're still learning to close out games and play confident the entire way, and that's something we need to figure out quickly."
Rachel Thompson once again came up big for the Bulldogs, scoring 16 points, many of them on stealthy layups to the basket. Laura Kromrey paced Seward with 10 points.
After trailing in the early minutes of the game, Nikiski pulled out to a 12-7 lead after one quarter, before clamping down on defense en route to a 23-9 halftime lead, holding Seward to only two points in eight minutes.
"We were able to pressure them, and that made a difference for us," Anderson said.
Indeed, Nikiski enforced a full-court press that continually frustrated the Seahawks, and it was made worse when one of Seward's top starters, Ashley VonBorstel, notched a couple of fouls early. VonBorstel ended with six points.
"Pretty much, that was our story," said Seward coach Mark Clemens. "Once you get in foul trouble, it changes everything. It's hard to manage it. We can't deal with traps, we can't deal with other stuff because of fouls."
After three quarters, Nikiski pushed its lead to 31-16, although Seward ate up a chunk of that with its star players all working together and back in the game.
Nikiski is currently ranked second in the conference — first in the south — and are looking to make a trip to state this year.
"I feel like we're improving, but I feel like we could still be a lot better," Anderson said. "I think we have a lot more potential and I look forward to seeing the girls play as well as they can."
Seahawks 82, Bulldogs 69
Seward 19 22 14 27 —82
Nikiski 13 21 15 20 —69
SEWARD (82) — Marshall 0 1-2 1, Pahno 5 3-4 13, DeBoard 0 0-0 0, Berry 0 0-0 0, Wolfe 4 4-6 13, Moore 13 7-9 34, Broughton 1 1-2 3, Jackson 4 9-9 18. Totals 27 25-32 82.
NIKISKI (69) — Stangel 1 0-0 3, Anderson 4 3-5 14, Johnson 7 7-11 21, Holloway 1 0-0 3, S. Carstens 8 3-4 19, N. Carstens 2 0-0 4, Riddall 0 0-0 0, Jackson 2 0-0 5. Totals 25 13-20 69.
3-point field goals — Seward 3 (Wolfe 1, Moore 1, Jackson 1); Nikiski 6 (Anderson 3, Stangel 1, Holloway 1, Jackson 1).
Team fouls — Seward 16; Nikiski 21.
Bulldogs 39, Seahawks 30
Nikiski 12 11 8 8 —39
Seward 7 2 7 14 —30
NIKISKI (39) — Riddall 0 0-0 0, Cook 1 0-1 2, Costello 0 0-2 0, Litke 2 3-4 7, Lynch 4 0-4 8, Thompson 5 5-6 16, Litzen 0 0-0 0, Darch 1 4-6 6. Totals 13 12-23 39.
SEWARD (30) — VonBorstel 3 0-1 6, Anderson 0 0-0 0, Kromrey 5 0-2 10, Stallings 0 0-0 0, Jackson 1 2-2 4, Whiteshield 1 1-2 3, Clemens 3 1-2 7. Totals 13 4-9 30.
3-point field goals — Nikiski 1 (Thompson 1); Seward 0.
Team fouls — Nikiski 9; Seward 18.