The Soldotna High School girls basketball team showed Thursday why they're one of the teams to beat this season on the Kenai Peninsula. So did the Nikiski Bulldogs.
Overcoming a slow scoring night from center Rachel Besse, the Stars defeated Nikiski 58-45 Thursday in the first round of the 2003 Peninsula Challenge at Skyview High School.
Soldotna senior forward Hillary Zobeck picked up the scoring load for Soldotna, but it was the scrappy play of the Bulldogs which set the tone for the game.
"I'm really proud of my team," said Nikiski coach Ward Romans following the game. "We played with what I consider one of the best teams in the state."
The Bulldogs led through the first quarter by a 10-5 margin. While Soldotna was plagued early by missed opportunities from the inside, Nikiski point guard Hisa Miyara was able to push the ball inside to post Karen Rabung for some easy layups. Rabung finished the quarter with six points.
Romans praised Miyara -- a foreign exchange student from Japan -- for her ability to run the team.
"Our offense is centered around our point guard," Romans said. "Last year we were blessed with Sally Glaze, but with (Hisa) we haven't missed a beat.
Romans said the 5-foot-4 Miyara's play is especially remarkable considering she's not used to playing point guard. In Japan, Miyara normally played forward, so she's having to adjust to the size of American players.
"They're tall," she said after the game.
Miyara has also has had to adjust to a slight language barrier, though basketball is where she seems to speak most fluently.
"Some of the words are the same," Miyara said.
"Her basketball IQ is so smart," Romans said. "The language of basketball is universal."
Stepping up to the challenge presented by Miyara, Soldotna's guards stepped up quickly in the second quarter, with Erin Wolf and Jennifer Senette dropping back-to-back 3-pointers in the first 25 seconds of the quarter.
Following the quick turnaround, Romans called timeout, but the momentum had already swung in favor of Soldotna.
"When they knocked down those two quick threes, that hurt," Romans said.
Soldotna used that turnaround to outscore the Bulldogs 22-8 in the second quarter, and the Stars took a 27-18 lead into the second half.
In the second half, both teams looked inside for scoring, as the 5-11 Zobeck and 6-0 Rabung battled back and forth inside. Both finished with 20 points to lead all scorers for the game.
Soldotna was helped by its team depth. Seniors Lauren Christensen and Amy Breakfield helped carry the scoring load, chipping in six points each coming off the bench.
Katie Floyd and Lynzie Ellis each had six points for Nikiski, but the Bulldogs were never able to cut SoHi's lead to less than nine points in the second half.
Despite its 9-0 record, Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said his team has a lot of work to do.
"We missed a lot of shots from point-blank range," Tuter said.
Tuter said his team didn't quite measure up to the standard it set in winning a holiday tournament in California.
"We left a little bit of our game in San Diego," Tuter said. "We better start off playing a little harder tomorrow."
Soldotna now faces Kenai, which was a 38-20 winner over North Pole Thursday, today at 6 p.m. in the second round of the tournament. Nikiski plays North Pole at 3 p.m.
Romans said the loss gives him plenty of optimism heading into the game against the Patriots.
"Our goal is to get better every game, and I felt like we got better," Romans said.
Kenai 38, North Pole 20
In a game that saw scoring more representative of the NFL than high school basketball, the Kenai Kardinals girls basketball team defeated the North Pole Patriots 38-20 in the first round of the tournament Thursday.
Neither team looked crisp in the first half. The score was tied at 6 at the end of the first quarter, and it didn't get much better from there. Kenai outscored the Patriots 5-1 in the second quarter, leaving both Kenai coach Jim Beeson and North Pole coach Robert McIntosh with angry looks on their faces walking to the locker room.
"We didn't do what we're supposed to do," McIntosh said after the game.
The second half featured more rough play, as neither team could find its rhythm on the offensive end. Kenai led 19-15 at the end of the third quarter, at which point the game was still up for grabs. However, the Kardinals used a 12-0 run at the start the fourth quarter to put the Patriots away.
Following the game, Beeson echoed McIntosh's comments when describing his own team's play.
"We're going to have nights where that's the way we play. I don't know, they just kind of go brain dead," said Beeson, whose team improved to 2-3 on the season.
The victory avenged a 49-47 Kenai loss to North Pole earlier in the season, and McIntosh said he thought his team was in position to again beat the Kards.
"That game was ours to lose, and we lost it," McIntosh said. "We didn't do what we're supposed to do."
Despite the sloppy play, both coaches found positives in Thursday's contest.
"We were prepared for them. The effort was there, but we sometimes just get on the floor and get excited and don't do the things we're supposed to do," Beeson said.
"We'll take our lickings, but we'll definitely move forward," McIntosh said. "I have a lot of faith in this team."
Seward 45, Homer 33
The Seahawks picked up a 12-point victory over the Mariners in the first round Thursday.
Seward moves on to face Palmer at 8 p.m. in the semifinals, while Homer will play Skyview in the consolation bracket at 4:30 p.m.
Palmer 44, Skyview 42
The Moose edged the Panthers to knock the hosts into the consolation bracket.
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