The stage was set Saturday for what promises to be a season-long struggle between the girls basketball teams from Kenai Central and Soldotna. From the sidelines of the championship game of the Skyview Peninsula Challenge tournament, Soldotna coach Mark Tuter yelled encouragement at his team.
"They are not the better team!" he shouted.
But Saturday night, the Kardinals were the better team, besting the Stars 33-28 and taking first place in the tournament.
Kenai took control of the game early and never let up. The Kardinals closed the first quarter with only a three-point lead over Soldotna, and each time the Stars came close, a combination of Kenai defense and Soldotna errors opened the gap in scoring.
Kenai coach Jim Beeson said his team performed well against Soldotna, although he admitted that his team wasn't exactly hitting on all cylinders.
"We had a lot of opportunities, but didn't take many shots," he said. "But this was the best of the last five games we've played against SoHi."
Kardinals' hustle went a long way toward grasping the win, as senior Jamie Montgomery was everywhere the ball was, collecting steals, assists and points. She ended the night with 12 points, six assists, four steals and two rebounds, leading her team, both in scoring and in spirit.
"When she gets her hands on the ball, it's a calming influence over the whole team," Beeson said. "She's so strong, she can do more than anybody on the court."
Montgomery showed this strength, both of body and will when, with 1:45 left in the third quarter, she snatched an offensive rebound from the hands of a much taller player and went back up to convert a field goal.
Montgomery had help, however, throughout the tournament. Senior Erica Shinn was named the tournament's most valuable player and contributed greatly to the team's championship win. Scoring nine points on the night, she also snagged eight rebounds during the final game.
Soldotna's Jennifer Senette looks for an opening in front of Kenai's Karli Knudsen Saturday evening.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Shinn said the team benefited from going up against a defense they weren't used to seeing during the tournament.
"We always play (against) man-to-man," she said. "These teams were mostly zone defense."
Montgomery said the constant play helped build the team's rhythm.
"We were a little rusty the past two games," Montgomery said. "Today we came out with intensity and confidence."
Tuter said Kenai played a great game, but that his team didn't hurt the Kardinals' efforts.
"We've got to learn to handle pressure," Tuter said. "We played great defense, but we had some mental lapses. They have to play for the whole 32 minutes."
And mental lapses cost Soldotna. The Stars amassed a total 14 team fouls during the game, with 10 coming in the second half. Missed shots and turnovers in the open floor gave the Kardinals scoring opportunities that could have been points for Soldotna. Junior Erin Wolfe even scored a bucket for Kenai in the bottom half of the second quarter.
Tuter said his team wasn't able to get the ball into the paint as much as he would have liked, and that contributed to their difficulties scoring.
"They needed to be more aggressive," he said.
Soldotna was led in scoring by junior Jennifer Senette, who had eight points with two 3-pointers and a pair of foul shots, and junior Hillary Zobeck, who had seven points from three field goals and a free throw.
Tutor offered praise for junior Amy Breakfield's contribution to the game.
"She didn't score a lot, but she played great defense," he said.
Beeson said the game went as he expected, and he anticipates this matchup being a deciding factor in the region tournament in March.
"That was pretty much a typical Kenai-SoHi game," he said. "Low scoring. Anytime we play Soldotna, anyone could win. It's going to come down to us and them for our half of the region."
Grace Christian School took third place in the tournament, beating Skyview in Saturday's consolation game. Chugiak finished fourth, defeating Homer, the sixth-place finishers, and West Anchorage claimed seventh place with a Saturday win over eighth-place Bethel.
Scores and statistics for Friday's and Saturday's nonchampionship games were not made available to the Clarion.
KARDINALS 33, STARS 28
Kenai 6 10 11 6 -- 33
Soldotna 3 8 6 11 -- 28
SOLDOTNA (28) -- A. Penner 0 0-0 0, Senette 2 2-2 8, Wolfe 2 0-0 4, Christensen 0 0-0 0, Besse 3 1-2 7, S. Penner 0 0-0 0, Syverson 0 0-0 0, Zobeck 3 1-6 7, Breakfield 1 0-2 1. Totals -- 11 4-12 28.
KENAI (33) -- Knudsen 1 1-4 3, Montgomery 6 0-4 12, Goggia 0 0-0 0, Edwards 2 1-2 5, McLeod 0 0-0 0, Shinn 3 0-0 6, Smith 4 1-3 9. Totals -- 16 3-13 33.
3-point goals -- Soldotna 2 (Senette 2). Total fouls -- Soldotna 14, Kenai 18. Fouled out -- Breakfield.
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