One by one, after the hooting and hollering had subsided, members of the Skyview boys basketball team walked out of the visitor's locker room.
Dressed in street clothes of varying styles, each player sported a huge smile.
The Panthers snapped a 40-game losing streak that dated back to the 2008-09 season, letting a 17-point lead slip to three before holding on for a 59-52 victory over Nikiski on the opening night of the 22nd Annual Era Aviation Tip Off Tournament on Thursday at Nikiski High School.
"This victory definitely put us on the map," said Nick Madrid, a senior transfer from Arizona. "Nobody really saw Skyview as a threat."
It was a long journey to this result for the Panthers, who hadn't won a game since midway through the 2008-09 campaign, according to athletic director and girls basketball coach Eric Pomerleau.
There was the winless 2009-10 season, a season in which then-first-year coach Jesse Settlemyer learned just how much work needed to be done. There was the ensuing offseason, when the team participated in camps and trained harder than ever in hopes the work would translate to wins.
Then there was the trip to San Diego last month, when Skyview lost three games in as many tries -- two of them by a combined three points.
Then, finally, there was this -- a physical, hold-on-tight victory over a young Nikiski squad that used a 23-10 third-quarter run to virtually erase a 17-point deficit.
"It feels great," Settlemyer said. "The kids played their hearts out."
For 16 minutes, it looked as though the Panthers (1-5) would win going away.
Controlling the paint and generating second-chance points from offensive rebounds, Skyview took an 11-5 lead after the first quarter and extended the margin to 30-14 at halftime.
Skyview center DJ Diaz scored seven of his 15 points over the first two quarters, outworking Nikiski on the glass, and the Bulldogs committed 11 turnovers.
Settlemyer and Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad agreed Diaz was the difference in the first half. Settlemyer said the 6-foot-4 post player is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game.
"He's been doing that all year," Settlemyer said. "He's just a big, strong kid. He loves rebounding and he gets after it."
The Bulldogs (1-6) woke up in the second half behind the shooting of senior guard Sam Taylor, who finished with a game-high 20 points and hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter to spark Nikiski's comeback.
Taylor had 11 points during a 16-4 Nikiski run to open the second half, cutting the lead to 34-30 midway through the third.
"Shooting is such a mental game," Kornstad said. "Sam is making that mental adjustment and is becoming more consistent. I love it when he makes it."
Lucas Herrin, the squad's tallest player at 6-2, turned in an aggressive second-half performance in the paint after getting off to a slow start. The junior finished with 16 points -- 10 in the second half -- and was all over the court over the final 16 minutes, blocking shots, diving to the floor for loose balls and bringing down offensive rebounds.
"We really need Lucas to lead our team," Kornstad said. "He's learning what that means. I'm really excited about the Lucas I saw in the second half."
The Bulldogs, however, never got closer than three points, pulling within 41-38 at the 6:50 mark of the fourth.
Diaz gave Skyview a 51-42 lead with 3:23 to play when he grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the put-back. Jordan McNamara then answered a Taylor 3-pointer with a bucket inside to make it 54-46.
Skyview hit enough free throws inside the final minute to hold off Nikiski, which had gained all the momentum before its home crowd.
"The message was just to relax, to play ball," Settlemyer said of what he told the squad as the lead dwindled. "We got that message out there and then it was just, 'Calm down, you know what to do.'"
Madrid added 15 points for the Panthers, while Albert White scored 16. McNamara had eight.
Skyview will look to win its second game in a row when it faces Houston at 4:15 p.m. today for the second day of the tournament at Nikiski. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, face Dillingham at 7:15 p.m.
Settlemyer said his squad will enjoy the victory, but is ready to get back to work.
"It's a huge monkey off our back," he said. "Going forward it's just a confidence builder. It's great for the program."
Nikiski girls 59, Skyview 25
Makenzie Moore kept missing, so like any pure shooter, she kept shooting.
Moore finished 6-of-11 from 3-point range and scored 26 points to lead the Nikiski girls basketball team to a 59-25 victory over Skyview on Thursday at Nikiski High School.
The sophomore missed her first four from long range, but hit five in a row between the second and third quarters to help Nikiski blow the game open after falling behind 6-2 in the first quarter.
"In practice she's generally better than a 50 percent shooter, so you know if she misses three or four of them, I want her to keep shooting because the makes are probably coming," Nikiski coach Lee Moore said, adding much of his daughter's success stems from teammate Savannah Griffel's ability to shoot from the outside. "It's nice to have a dual threat on the outside."
The Bulldogs (5-3 overall, 2-0 league) used a 23-2 run between the end of the first quarter and the middle of the second to turn a four-point deficit into a 17-point advantage. Junior Samantha Griffel capped the spurt with a 3-pointer at the 3:36 mark of the second.
Nikiski scored 20 points in the quarter, benefiting from nine of Skyview's 19 turnovers, and poured it on in the third behind the sharpshooting Moore. The sophomore hit four of her six from long range in the third after struggling in the first half, scoring just seven points.
"In my head I think about how I'm shooting if I miss my first few --'OK, what did I do wrong? Oh, my elbow was out so I need to fix that, or I didn't follow through with my fingers to the basket,'" she said. "After halftime I kept thinking, 'This is what I need to do, this how I need to shoot.' Then I finally got it."
The Bulldogs hit nine from long distance.
It was a dominant victory for the Bulldogs, who dropped a sloppy 39-30 game against Kenai Central High School on Tuesday.
Nikiski coughed up 27 turnovers against the full-court pressure of Kenai Central, but only committed 12 against Skyview, which played zone.
"That's one of the things we continually strive to work on -- cutting down our turnovers," Lee Moore said. "I was really proud of the way they played tonight."
Jaxon Hill led Skyview with 10 points.
The Bulldogs face Dillingham at 5:45 p.m. today, while the Panthers face Houston at 2:45 p.m.
Skyview 6 6 6 7 --25
Nikiski 9 20 18 12 --59
SKYVIEW (25) -- Halverson 0 0-0 0, Hauptman 2 0-0 4, Saunders 0 1-2 1, Marang 1 0-0 2, Hill 4 2-2 10, Mercier 1 0-0 2, Self 0 0-0 0, Bak 2 0-0 4. Totals -- 11 3-4 25.
NIKISKI (59) -- Griffel 3 0-2 8, D. Holloway 3 0-0 6, Dixon 0 0-0 0, T. Holloway 1 0-0 3, Tuttle 0 0-2 2, Parish 2 1-3 5, Moore 9 2-3 26, Martin 3 1-2 7, Wallis 2 0-2 4. Totals -- 23 4-8 59.
3-point field goals - Skyview none, Nikiski 9 (Moore 6, Griffel 2, T. Holloway). Team fouls -- Skyview 8 Nikiski 10. Fouled out -- none.
Skyview 11 19 10 19 --59
Nikiski 5 9 23 15 --52
SKYVIEW (59) - Madrid 5 2-4 15, Symonds 0 0-0 0, White 5 5-8 16, Jones 1 0-0 3, McNamara 4 0-0 8, Diaz 7 1-2 15, Reynolds 1 0-0 2, Corona 0 0-0 0, Penrod 0 0-0 0. Totals --23 8-14 59.
NIKISKI (52) - Anderson 0 5-8 5, Carlson 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 1-2 1, Hartley 0 0-0 0, Harris 1 0-0 2, Herrin 7 2-6 16, Taylor 7 0-0 20, Krogseng 4 0-0 8. Totals -- 19 8-16 52.
3-point field goals -- Skyview 4 (Madrid 3, White), Nikiski 6 (Taylor 6). Team fouls -- Skyview 12, Nikiski 15. Fouled out -- none.
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