PALMER — The Soldotna Stars knew their season was ending Saturday, and Soldotna capped the year guns blazing.
Soldotna knocked down 11 3-pointers en route to a 67-45 win over the Wasilla Warriors in the Northern Lights Conference Championships third-place game at Colony High School. The game was also the final one for SoHi coach Matt Johnson.
Austin Kruse drilled five 3-pointers in the win and Colton Young added three shots from behind the arc. Three of Kruse’s 3s came during Soldotna’s 16-8 second-quarter run.
Young led the Stars with a game-high 18 and Kruse added 15. As a team, Soldotna shot 55 percent from behind the arc.
Alex Baham led Wasilla with 14 points.
Wasilla girls 69, Soldotna 27
PALMER — The Wasilla Warriors looked like a team headed for the state tournament during a dominant victory over Soldotna in the NLC third-place game at Colony High.
But the Warriors left the locker room Saturday afternoon wondering if they’ve done enough to grab one of the state’s two at-large berths.
Kodiak and Colony claimed the conference’s two automatic bids with semifinal wins Friday. Kodiak narrowly beat Wasilla, needing a fourth-quarter surge to rally to the win. Saturday, the Warriors showed no ill effects from the close loss to the top-ranked and undefeated Bears.
“The kids are playing their best ball right now. We’re peaking at the right time. I just hope it’s enough,” Wasilla head coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax said after the win.
The Alaska Schools Activities Association uses its Winning Percentage Index to rank 4A programs. Six seeds are handed out automatically, according to results of the four 4A conferences. The top two remaining teams, according to WPI, get the final two spots. Heading into play Saturday morning, unofficial WPI reports listed Wasilla at ninth in the standings.
“We’re pretty close,” Hebert-Truax said. “I think something else has got happen for us. We’re on the bubble.”
Soldotna was listed sixth on the unofficial WPI reports Saturday morning. But Wasilla was able to open up with the early lead.
“I knew by the time March came around we’d be playing our best,” Hebert-Truax said of the Warriors, who dropped both NLC regular-season games against Soldotna. “Throughout the season we had to be good enough to get that at-large bid or surprise somebody in our region.”
After graduating five seniors from a 2013 squad that won the program’s third-straight 4A state title, the Warriors started the year with only three players who saw any varsity playing time. The remainder of the roster was made up mostly by freshmen, and a senior transfer from Nome, Shayla Johnson.
“Trying to mesh them all together, getting them all on the same page, picking up the intensity, learning those little fundamentals I want them to know that make us a good team and work together as a group, we knew it was going to be a yearlong process,” Hebert-Truax said.
Johnson sparked the Warriors early, scoring all 19 of Wasilla’s first-quarter points. Johnson hit four 3-pointers in the first, five in the game, and scored a game-high 35 points.
“Shayla was unbelievable. She was just on fire,” Hebert-Truax said.
Wasilla led 19-14 after the first, and blew the game open with a 14-5 second-quarter run. Freshman Catherine Baham hit a 3-pointer and scored seven of her team’s 14 in the second.
Johnson also collected six steals and six rebounds in the win. Cassidy Edwards finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Hebert-Truax said she was concerned about how her team would rebound from the eight-point loss to Kodiak in the semifinals.
“One of my worries as a coach was did we give out too much energy yesterday,” Hebert-Truax said. “We’ve got pretty resilient kids. We came out firing. It could be our last game of the season. If it is our last game, we’ve gone out the way we want to go.”
Soldotna, which appears to be headed to the state tourney with an at-large berth, was held to just 15.9 percent shooting in the game, including 11 percent in the second half. The Stars also turned the ball over 26 times.
Katelynn Kerkvliet led Soldotna with 11 points and seven rebounds. Kelci Benson added six points.
While the Stars will try to shake off back-to-back losses in the NLC tournament, the Warriors will sit and wait for ASAA to release its state tourney bracket.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Hebert-Truax said. “We’re hoping to have good spirits tomorrow rather than disappointment.”
Kodiak girls 64, Colony 43
The Bears shook off the close challenge from the Warriors on Friday with a big victory for the NLC title Saturday.
Kodiak boys 56, Colony 50
The Bears continued to be a matchup nightmare for the top-seeded Knights, taking the NLC title from Colony on its home floor.
Colony boys 43, Soldotna 32
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 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.
Palmer boys 63, Kenai 55
PALMER — Any hope of a trip to the state tournament for the Palmer Moose disappeared with a tough loss to Soldotna during the first round of the Northern Lights Conference tournament Thursday. But even though the Moose had no shot at qualifying for the state tourney, Palmer still had one last game on the schedule.
Palmer rebounded with a win over Kenai Central on Friday, during the second day of the tourney at Colony High School.
“A game like that, you know it’s the last game of the season. For the seniors it’s the last game of your career. It’s fairly tough sometimes to find that motivation and desire,” Palmer head coach Brandon Blake said after the win. “Total credit to them. They played hard. The seniors played hard the entire game. We got to play a bunch of the young kids. It was a nice way to finish.”
Senior Adam Ramoth capped his Moose career with a 30-point effort. He was 8 of 14 from the field, and a perfect 3 for 3 from behind the arc. Ramoth also drained 11 of 12 free throws.
“He had an unbelievable day,” Blake said of Ramoth.
Senior Cody Wells finished with 11 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
The seniors also helped spark Palmer’s 20-2 second-quarter run.
“We made a nice run in that second quarter there. Cody Wells and Adam Ramoth made some big plays defensively,” Blake said.
Kenai used a 20-10 third-quarter run to try to get back into the game, but Palmer was able to outscore the Kards 22-18 during the final quarter to secure the win.
Trevor Shirnberg posted a double-double and led his squad with a team-high 19 points and game-high 10 rebounds. Jonah Theisen hit a pair of 3s and added a dozen points.
Palmer girls 44, Kenai 36
PALMER — With a roster than includes seven sophomores and 10 players who could potentially return to the program, Palmer is building for the future.
Friday, the Moose capped their season with something on which to build.
Sophomore Leya DePriest collected game highs of 10 points and eight rebounds to lead the Moose. Sophomore Katie Bowman added nine points and two steals, while sophomore Carly Venzke chipped in four points and four steals.
Justice English led Kenai with 10 points. Allie Ostrander hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight.
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.
Moose 63, Kardinals 55
Palmer 11 20 10 22 —63
Kenai 15 2 20 18 —55
PALMER (63) — A. Ramoth 8 11-12 30, Jones 1 3-4 5, Ferris 3 0-0 6, Southwick 0 2-5 2, Wells 3 5-9 11, Christiansen 2 1-2 5, Yanez 1 2-3 4; Totals: 18 24-35 63.
KENAI (55) — Theisen 3 4-4 12, Shirnberg 8 3-4 19, McKee 1 0-0 3, Jackson 2 0-0 5, Foree 1 2-2 5; Totals: 18 13-14 55.
3-point field goals: Palmer 3 (A. Ramoth 3), Kenai 6 (Theisen 2).
Knights 50, Stars 42
Soldotna 11 5 17 9 —42
Colony 13 12 10 15 —50
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.
Moose 44, Kardinals 36
Palmer 14 15 7 8 —44
Kenai 6 9 15 6 —36
PALMER (44) — Venzke 2 0-1 4, K. DePriest 1 3-4 5, Bowman 2 5-7 9, Osiensky 2 0-0 4, Ledger 0 4-8 4, McCall 0 2-2 2, Smylie 1 2-2 4, L. DePriest 4 2-2 10; Totals: 13 18-24 44.
KENAI (36) — Ostrander 3 0-0 8, English 3 4-6 10, Creighton 2 0-1 2, Steinbeck 2 1-2 5, Barcus 4 0-6 8, Beck 0 3-4 3; Totals: 13 8-19 36.
3-point field goals: Palmer 0, Kenai 2 (Ostrander 2).
Warriors 69, Stars 27
Wasilla 19 14 15 21 —69
Soldotna 14 5 3 5 —27
WASILLA (69) — Kelly 1 3-8 5, LaBuda 0 2-2 2, Heath 0 2-2 2, Johnson 11 7-7 35, Baham 4 0-0 9, Toews 0 1-2 1, Hutchins 1 3-5 5, Dinkel 1 1-2 3, Edwards 2 2-4 7; Totals: 20 21-32 69.
SOLDOTNA (27) — Benson 2 1-2 6, Litchfield 1 3-6 6, L. Wong 1 1-2 3, Kerkvliet 3 5-6 11, Miller 0 1-3 1; Totals: 7 11-19 27.
3-point field goals: Wasilla 8 (Johnson 6), Soldotna 2 (Benson, Litchfield 1); Total fouls: Wasilla 20, Soldotna 24.
Stars 67, Warriors 45
Soldotna 21 16 16 14 —67
Wasilla 17 8 7 13 —45
SOLDOTNA (67) — Calloway 0 1-2 1, Young 6 3-3 18, Conradi 2 1-2 5, Spence 3 0-0 7, Spence 2 3-5 9, Kruse 5 0-0 15, Fowler 1 0-0 2, McElroy 3 1-1 7, Trammell 1 0-0 3; Totals: 23 10-14 67.
WASILLA (45) — Carney 2 4-4 9, Krueger 0 3-4 3, Baham 4 4-6 14, Garnett 3 0-7 7, Houck 2 0-0 5, Thatta 1 0-0 2, Burns 2 1-4 5; Totals: 14 12-27 45.
3-point field goals: Soldotna 11 (Kruse 5), Wasilla 5 (Baham 2); Total fouls: Soldotna 18, Wasilla 19.