Both Kenai Central boys coach Jim Beeson and Eagle River boys coach Craig Harrison ran simulated end-of-game situations in practice last week.
Coaches can practice those situations all they want, but there's nothing like the real thing. That's why both the girls and boys coaches of Kenai and Eagle River found Friday's nonconference contests at Kenai Central so valuable.
In the girls game, the Kardinals entered the final minute trailing by two, but pulled out a 48-47 victory to move to 3-3 on the season and drop the Wolves to 2-6. In the boys contest, Eagle River went into the final minute trailing by one but pulled off a 66-64 victory to hand the Kardinals their first loss of the season and improve to 4-4 on the year.
Fouls played a major role in the girls game, with Eagle River collecting 23 team fouls and Kenai getting whistled for 22. It was only appropriate that the game was ultimately decided by a foul shot.
With the game knotted at 47, Kenai junior Lacie Wortham stepped to the charity stripe with 15 seconds left and drained 1-of-2 foul shots. On Eagle River's next possession, 5-foot-11 senior Kenai captain Kyla Steward stole a pass attempted for 6-2 senior Lindsay Sommers to cement the victory.
The theft finished off a monster night for Steward in her battle with Sommers. Steward finished with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor and 8-of-12 shooting from the foul line. That effort from the charity stripe was a big difference in the game because Eagle River was just 9-of-26 at the line and the rest of the Kardinals were 4-of-11. Steward also had 11 of Kenai's 37 rebounds.
"Kyla played lights out," Kenai coach Ken Felchle said. "She didn't shy away from going at the 6-2 big girl."
Sommers also caused her share of damage in the matchup underneath. She finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor and a 4-of-9 effort from the foul line. Her 18 rebounds keyed a 52-37 victory on the boards by the Wolves. She also just missed knocking Steward from the game, forcing the Kenai captain to play the final 6:49 with four fouls.
Eagle River grabbed a 47-43 lead with 2:08 to play when Sommers scored after the Wolves had grabbed four offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive.
With 1:43 to play, Hannah Delaney nailed a jumper to cut the lead to two, then Delaney tied the game with 40 seconds on a jumper that kicked high off the rim, but bounced down right into the basket.
Felchle called timeout and organized a trap that caused an Eagle River turnover with 33 seconds left. Felchle then called another timeout and put together the play on which Wortham would draw the foul for the winning foul shot.
The Kenai coach was frustrated his team had been outrebounded and turned the ball over 23 times in the game. He was thrilled with the way the team handled the final minute.
"In the end, they executed everything we had talked about in the those timeouts," he said. "I'm happy with that."
Early in the game, Eagle River grabbed a 12-6 lead behind the combination of point guard Cierra Mickens and Sommers. Mickens assisted on four baskets in the 12-6 run to open the game and scored another hoop. She went to the bench with foul trouble with 3:57 left in the first quarter and would play sparingly until fouling out with 3:01 left in the third quarter with 11 points and seven rebounds. With Mickens in the game, Eagle River had built its largest lead of the night at 36-29 with 4:17 left in the third.
"It affected us a great deal," Eagle River coach Chalene Macon said of Mickens' foul trouble. "She's one of our leaders on the court. The girls look to her and feed off of her leadership.
"It would have been a different ballgame had she been on the court."
Macon also said the Wolves were hurt in the final minutes by inexperience. This is just Eagle River's second year as a varsity program. Last year, the Wolves posted just two wins.
"We've improved so much from last year," Macon said. "We have to get used to being in close games."
The night of tension that began with the girls game continued with the boys contest. In both contests, the largest lead of the night was seven points.
The boys contest set one coach up for frustration. In his last three practices of the week, Beeson had worked with his team on end-of-game situations. In his practice on Thursday, Harrison had put his starting five on the floor on and worked on pulling out a victory when entering the final minute trailing by six points.
The Kardinals grabbed a 62-61 lead with 2:35 left in the game when Nathan Byrd hit 1-of-2 from the line after a technical foul by Eagle River's Maxwell Harvey. Kenai got the ball back with the lead with 1:55 left, and spread the floor to take time off the clock. With just under a minute to play, Byrd was dribbling near the center circle when Eagle River freshman Nathaniel Yaw was able to tip the ball loose. A mad scramble for the ball ensued, with the ball popping out to Eagle River's 6-6 Michael Hall. Hall glided down the lane for a one-handed dunk to give the Wolves a 63-62 lead with 48 seconds remaining.
"There was a player behind me, so I thought he was going to foul," said Hall, who also had a two-handed dunk in the game. "I was just going to lay it in, but he was farther behind me than I thought, so I dunked it."
With the gym going bananas, Kenai's Cory Toombs, who matched Hall for game-high scoring honors with 21 points, quickly attacked and converted a nifty reverse layup with 35 seconds left to put the Kardinals ahead 64-63.
After an Eagle River timeout, the Wolves got the ball to Bobby Garcia. Garcia would finish with 15 points and three 3-pointers, so when he faked a 3-pointer, Toombs went for the fake and was forced to foul after Garcia ducked past him.
After a Kenai timeout, Garcia, an 80 percent free throw shooter, was about to take his first foul shot when the buzzer went off. Harrison said he was told the buzzer came from the clock running down that had timed the timeout. Garcia missed the foul shot, but the referees conferred and determined the first foul shot didn't count. Garcia rattled out his next foul shot, then Kenai called another timeout. After the timeout, Garcia made his third foul shot to tie the game at 64 with 23 seconds left.
Kenai's Nate Saltzgiver attempted a jumper with eight seconds left, but the ball squirmed out and Eagle River grabbed the rebound. The Wolves quickly got the ball to Garcia for a shot from the corner, but he missed. The ball bounded right to Hall, who dumped in the layup for the game winner at the buzzer.
"I came down for the rebound, and nobody boxed me out," Hall said. "When he shot it, if he missed it, I was hoping it would bounce to my side and it did."
Beeson said Kenai did not execute in the final minute.
"We took the final shot with eight to 10 seconds left and it gave them enough time to get off two shots on the other end," Beeson said. "The worst we should have been able to do was go to overtime."
Beeson said it was more than the execution in the final minute that cost his team the game.
"We'd have three or four block out and one or two that didn't," Beeson said. "That killed us. Second-chance opportunities and free-throw shooting."
In a double overtime victory at Anchorage Christian Schools, the Kardinals were 12-of-12 from the line. On Friday, Kenai was 4-of-11. Byrd, normally an 80 percent free-throw shooter, was 3-of-6 from the line while Saltzgiver, who had not missed a free throw this season heading into the game, was 0-for-2.
Harrison said a big difference was all the second-chance points earned.
"We played great on the glass," he said. "We used our length and athleticism."
Beeson said Eagle River is a very good basketball team and there were positives that came from the game.
"We played hard," Beeson said. "It was evident to me that they are a lot more athletic than we are. But we did a good job executing plays against them."
Harvey added 13 points for Eagle River while Byrd had 19 for Kenai and Saltzgiver added 13.
The Lynx led by just one point after the first quarter, but steadily pulled away to claim the nonconference victory. Samantha Hull paced the Kardinals with eight points.
Kenai Central boys 80, Homer 41
The Kardinals rebounded from their first loss of the year by routing the visiting Mariners in a Northern Lights Conference contest.
Kenai bolted to a 30-12 lead after the first quarter and cruised from there. Cory Toombs and Daniel Gustkey paced the Kardinals with 12 points, while Zach Beeson had 11 points and Josh Lazaro had 10 points.
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