PALMER — The Soldotna Stars and Palmer Moose entered the conference tournament with similar storylines. They were the four and five seeds, respectively, but both considered themselves tough outs. Both teams also needed victories on Friday and Saturday for any chance at an automatic berth to the state tournament, and both teams knew anything could happen this weekend in the Northern Lights Conference tournament.
But Thursday, it was the Soldotna Stars who grabbed the opportunity to gain some momentum, and the Stars are now a win away from the state tournament. Sparked a second-quarter run, Soldotna scored a 56-37 win over the Moose during the Northern Lights Conference quarterfinals at Colony High School. With the win, Soldotna moves ahead to face top-seeded Colony on Friday at 6:45 p.m. at CHS.
“I like having the Thursday game. Obviously the bye would be nice, you’re well-rested, and your scouting is a little different. But I do like being able to get in rhythm, get a game in,” Soldotna head coach Matt Johnson said of gaining some momentum with the quarterfinal win. “I thought it was a good confidence builder for us. I thought we played really well for the most part.”
Soldotna led early, and used a 19-9 second-quarter run to separate.
“I thought our kids came out with a really good focus, intensity. They were ready to play,” Johnson said.
Max Conradi and Daniel McElroy helped spark the Stars early. The duo scored six each, and combined for 12 of Soldotna’s 14 first-quarter points. Austin Kruse added seven second-quarter points, and the Stars were a perfect 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in the second. In addition to the offense, Johnson was pleased with SoHi’s work on the other end of the floor.
“I thought the biggest thing, we forced them into tough shots,” Johnson said. “We rebounded the ball pretty well too.”
McElroy led Soldotna with a game-best 18 in the contest. As Johnson looked ahead to his team’s semifinal date with host Colony, he said the Stars know the Knights are tough, but there’s been a great deal of parity in the NLC this year.
“Any night, any team can win,” Johnson said. “It’s fun to watch, and really gives you some optimism, some hope, on any day.”
Palmer tried to rally in the second half with a 15-point third quarter. Senior Cody Wells hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Tye Ramoth hit another. But Soldotna was able to consistently hold the double-digit cushion. But that doesn’t mean Johnson was counting the victory an earlier than the final buzzer.
“I was never very comfortable,” Johnson said. “Until about 2:30 to go, it felt a little more secure. Even three, four minutes left I never felt comfortable. (Adam) Ramoth is able to go off on a heartbeat, and they’ve got a couple of other kids capable of making shots.”
Wells led his team with 11. Adam Ramoth chipped in nine and Tye Ramoth collected eight.
While Soldotna moves forward, Palmer will cap its 2013-14 season against Kenai in consolation action Friday at 11:45 a.m.
Wasilla boys 70, Kenai 59, OT
PALMER — Welcome back Cameron Brown.
After missing four games due to injury, the Wasilla junior guard hit the game-tying free throw to force overtime and scored five of his game-high 28 points during the extra period to lead the Warriors to a win over the Kenai Central Kardinals during the Northern Lights Conference quarterfinals Thursday evening at Colony High School.
“It felt really good, really good to play with my teammates again,” said Brown, who suffered a concussion at Soldotna about two weeks ago.
Brown was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team won three of its last four games to earn the No. 3 seed in the NLC tourney. But Thursday, Brown was at the free-throw line with his team trailing by one point with nine seconds left in regulation. Brown missed the first free throw, but drained the second to tie the game at 55 and force overtime.
“It was the biggest relief of my life,” Brown said.
Kenai, which trailed by double digits during the second half, took its first lead of the final two quarters with 20 seconds left in regulation. Kenai’s Josh Jackman got the basket and drew the foul. The basket tied the score at 54, and Jackman completed the three-point play with the free-throw to give his team the 55-54 lead.
Brown was charged with the foul.
Wasilla head coach Ryan Engebretsen said it was big for Brown to be called for the foul on Kenai’s go-ahead play, and then turn around and tie the game for his team.
“He’s a junior who’s made a ton of plays for me. As soon as that happened, we just made eye contact. He knew what I wanted. He knew that he was going to have to try to make a tough shot, and he didn’t shy away from it. He knew that without having to have a two-minute conversation,” Engebretsen said.
In the final seconds, Brown drove the lane, put up a shot and drew the foul that set up the free-throw attempts.
Brown also sparked Wasilla early in overtime, driving to the basket to provide the first score of the extra period. He followed a Stone Krueger bucket with a 3-pointer to spark a 7-1 Wasilla overtime run.
Alex Baham hit another 3-pointer to push Wasilla’s lead to nine.
“That was big. That gave us energy,” Brown said of the Wasilla shots on the offensive end.
Kenai trailed by 10 points heading into the final quarter, but clawed back into the game.
“They definitely played a good game. We kind of came out lackadaisical in the second half,” Brown said.
Miles Jones helped spark the Kenai rally with a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth. Jackman scored seven of his team-high 16 in the fourth quarter.
Jones hit his first three with 5:11 left to cut Wasilla’s lead to 47-44. His next 3-pointer came after Wasilla had extended its lead back to eight points.
The Jones 3-pointer was the beginning of a 7-1 Kenai run that was capped by a Trevor Shirnberg 3-pointer.
The Shirnberg 3 came with 1:05 left in regulation and cut Wasilla’s lead to 54-52.
Engebretsen said Kenai, 0-10 during the regulation season, played his team very tough.
“It’s regions. It doesn’t matter what you do throughout the entire season. Everyone shows up to play. Everyone gives a great game in this first round. That’s what makes our region terrific,” Engebretsen said.
With the win, Wasilla moves forward to play second-seeded Kodiak today at 3:15 p.m in the semifinals. Kenai will cap its season in the consolation game at 11:45 a.m.
Colony girls 52, Kenai 21
PALMER — Throughout his long career of coaching basketball at Colony High, first with the boys and now with the girls, Jeff Bowker has always told his players to set their sights on two days during the season.
Bowker’s Knights circle the Saturday of the region tournament and the Saturday of the state tournament on their calendars. Seeing his team play in the final girls game of each one of those days is always his primary goal.
Thursday, Bowker’s Knights made another step toward playing some Saturday basketball. Colony used a quick start to cruise past Kenai 52-21 during the Northern Lights Conference quarterfinals Thursday evening at Colony High.
“You want some momentum, some confidence. You want smiles on their faces. You want them fresh, feeling like I want to go to the gym,” Bowker said of the importance of getting that first-round tournament win.
Colony used an early 13-point run to move into the semifinals where the Knights will face second-seeded Soldotna today at 5 p.m.
The game, in which Kenai didn’t find its first basket until the final moments of the first quarter, was far different than a pair of early season meetings.
“We played them twice early in the season and they were one-possession games,” Bowker said. “You want to see that your team is improving. I thought we played pretty good.”
Colony was able to avoid another defensive slugfest, thanks in part to its 13-2 first quarter run. Kenai got its first basket, an Abby Beck layup, during the final moments of the first quarter.
“It loosens things up a little bit,” Bowker said of Colony’s early run.
Faith Farris led a balanced scoring attack early for the Knights. The junior guard scored five of her game-high 14 in the first quarter. Ashley Turcotte supplied four of her nine points during the first eight minutes.
Jennifer Solano also scored 14 for Colony. Beck led Kenai with eight points.
With the loss, Kenai will cap its season against Palmer in consolation action Friday at 10 a.m. at Colony High.
Wasilla girls 45, Palmer 33
The Warriors pulled away in the third quarter against the Moose to earn a spot in the semifinals.
Wasilla led just 18-17 at the half, but outscored Palmer 17-9 in the third quarter.
Shayla Johnson had 16 points for Wasilla, while Amanda Hutchins had 11 and McKenna Dinkel had 10 points.
For Palmer, Carly Venzke had nine points.
Warriors 70, Kardinals 59, OT
Kenai 12 11 11 21 4 —59
Wasilla 14 14 16 11 15 —70
KENAI CENTRAL (59) — Thiesen 4 0-1 11, Shirnberg 4 2-4 10, McKee 5 0-2 12, Jackman 5 5-6 16, Foree 1 0-0 2, Jones 2 0-0 6; Totals; 22 7-13 59.
WASILLA (70) — Brown 9 8-11 28, Carney 1 0-0 3, Krueger 3 1-2 10, Baham 2 2-4 7, McGregor 3 6-7 12, Houck 1 0-0 2, Burns 3 2-4 8; Totals: 23 19-28 70.
3-point field goals: Kenai 8 (Thiesen 3), Wasilla 5 (Brown 2); Total fouls: Kenai 23, Wasilla 15.
Knights 52, Kardinals 21
Kenai 2 5 7 7 —21
Colony 13 13 14 12 —52
KENAI CENTRAL (21) — Ostrander 0 2-4 2, English 2 0-0 5, Creighton 0 0-2 0, Baker 0 0-2 0, Steinbeck 2 1-4 5, Barcus 0 1-2 1, Beck 3 2-7 8; Totals: 7 6-21 21.
COLONY (52) — Saxon 1 0-0 2, Farris 5 3-4 14, Tweed 2 2-4 8, Stephens 1 1-2 3, Turcotte 4 1-2 9, Solano 6 2-2 14, Bonn 0 2-3 2; Totals: 19 11-17 52.
3-point field goals: Kenai 1 (English 1), Colony 3 (Tweed 2); Total fouls: Kenai 15, Colony 20.
Stars 56, Moose 37
Soldotna 14 19 13 10 —56
Palmer 7 6 15 9 —37
SOLDOTNA (56) — Calloway 1 0-0 2, Young 1 0-0 2, Conradi 4 0-0 8, Furlong 4 0-0 9, Spence 2 4-5 8, Kruse 2 2-4 7. Fowler 0 2-2 2, McElroy 7 4-5 18; Totals: 21 12-16 56.
PALMER (37) — A. Ramoth 3 3-6 9, Jones 1 0-0 2, T. Ramoth 3 0-0 8, Ferris 1 0-0 2, Southwick 1 0-0 3, Wells 3 3-4 11, Blake 1 0-0 2; Totals: 13 6-10 37.
3-point field goals: Palmer 5 (T. Ramoth, Wells 2); Total fouls: Palmer 16.