PALMER — Sometimes to win big games, it takes a different player to hit the big shots.
Eric Nygard was that player Friday night. The Colony senior co-captain hit timely 3-pointers in the first and fourth quarters to help Colony earn a 43-32 win over Soldotna in the Northern Lights Conference tournament semifinals at Colony High School on Friday night. Nygard scored nine points to help the Knights advance to the NLC title game for the third straight year. Colony also earned one of the conference's two automatic berths to the state tournament with the win.
"He was terrific," Colony head coach Tom Berg said of Nygard, a reserve guard for the Knights. "When (an opposing) coach puts a scouting report together, whether it be regions or state, somebody else is going to have to make a play. They're not going to let you run your favorite set. They're not going to let you do whatever."
Soldotna held Colony's top offensive weapon, senior Damien Fulp, scoreless during the first quarter, but Nygard stepped up and hit a pair of shots that helped Colony put together a 14-point first quarter. Nygard's 3-pointer gave the Knights a two-possession lead.
In the fourth when Soldotna cut into Colony's lead, Nygard hit a 3-pointer from deep into the corner to push Colony's lead to nine points.
"Eric's a good shooter. He's been a good shooter in our program for four years," Berg said. "Really, in a lot of other programs Eric would have been playing a lot sooner than he is now, no doubt in my mind, with the guys we had ahead of him in our program in previous years. Now he's making the most out of it."
Nygard also recorded the assist on Colony's first basket of the second quarter, a Fulp layup that came with less than four minutes left in the first half.
"He gave us the assist on that layup that kind of got us back on track," Berg said.
Fulp also hit a big shot late in the first half. Fulp drained a 3-pointer, drew the foul and hit the free throw to complete the four-point play and help CHS take the 22-16 lead into halftime.
Graham Dinkel, who scored Colony's first two baskets of the game, led Colony with 12 points. Nygard chipped in nine, and Fulp and Bailey West added eight each.
Soldotna center Daniel McElroy led the Stars with a dozen points. McElroy scored all eight of Soldotna's first-quarter points, and 10 of the Stars 16 points in the first half. Colony held McElroy to only two points in the second half. Berg said it wasn't really a halftime adjustment. The Knights simply made it harder on McElroy in the second half.
"He's a good player. He's gotten really good at playing himself around the rim and making plays. I thought we missed a couple of assignments early. I thought we were guarding it right, but thought there was just a little breakdown," Berg said of McElroy. "We talked about going and bugging him a little bit with the off guards. He didn't catch as clean in the second half."
Nathan Spence added seven points for the Stars, who were in search of their first trip to the NLC title game since 2009. Austin Kruse hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored six.
Overall, Berg said he was happy with his team's ability to keep hold of the lead, even when the Stars tried to rally.
"I thought we kept our composure. In regions, it's going to be a grind. That's what it was," Berg said.
SoHi meets Wasilla in the third-place game at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
Colony girls 50, Soldotna 42
PALMER — Izzy Tweed saved her best for last.
Tweed, scoreless in the first three quarters, scored nine of her team's 15 fourth-quarter points to help Colony grab a 50-42 win over Soldotna during the Northern Lights Conference semifinals at Colony High on Friday evening.
Soldotna, which trailed through the entire second and third quarters, tied the game with a Katelynn Kerkvliet layup with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter. But Tweed and the Knights had the immediate answer.
Tweed hit a deep 3 on Colony's ensuing possession to give her team the 39-36 advantage, a lead Colony would hold for the remainder of the game.
Less than a minute later, Tweed hit her second 3-pointer of the quarter to push Colony's lead to six points.
Junior Faith Farris sparked the Knights early with 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first half. The total included a trio of 3-pointers. Ashley Turcotte and Jennifer Solano added seven each for Colony, which returns to the NLC title game for the first time since 2011. It also marks the 20th straight year that a Valley team will play for a NLC girls title.
Colony meets top-seeded and undefeated Kodiak on Saturday afternoon at CHS.
Makayla Wong led Soldotna with 14 points in the loss. Kerkvliet added 13.
With the loss, Soldotna will meet Wasilla in the NLC third-place game, Saturday at noon at CHS.
Knights 43, Stars 32
SOLDOTNA (32) — Young 0 1-2 1, Furlong 1 0-0 3, Spence 3 0-0 7, Kruse 2 0-0 6, Fowler 1 1-2 3, McElroy 5 2-2 12; Totals: 12 4-6 32.
COLONY (43) — West 3 1-1 8, Fulp 3 1-1 8, Dinkel 5 2-2 12, Nygard 3 1-2 9, Sonnenberg 0 2-2 2, Bush 2 0-1 4; Totals: 16 7-9 43.
3-point field goals: Soldotna 4 (Kruse 2), Colony 4 (Nygard 2) ; Total fouls: Soldotna 14, Colony 11.
Knights 50, Stars 42
SOLDOTNA (42) — Benson 2 1-2 6, Litchfield 3 3-7 9, M. Wong 5 4-4 14, Kerkvliet 5 3-6 13; Totals: 15 11-19 42.
COLONY (50) — Farris 6 4-6 19, Tweed 3 1-2 9, Stephens 1 3-6 5, Turcotte 1 5-8 7, Brumbaugh 1 1-2 3, Solano 2 3-4 7; Totals: 14 17-28 50.
3-point field goals: Soldotna 1 (Benson 1), Colony 5 (Farris 3); Total fouls: Soldotna 23, Colony 16.