Kenai's Katie Foley, right, tries to keep the ball from Grace Christian's Alexa Mestas in the first half Saturday at KCHS.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Only a sophomore, Lacie Wortham is a bit shy around the net.
“She’s just got to know that she’s a scorer,” said Kenai coach Ken Felchle. “And she is a scorer.”
If she wasn’t aware that before, she is now.
Finally letting the ball fly after passing up open shots, Wortham scored eight crucial points on 4-of-6 shooting and pulled in many timely rebounds down the stretch in helping the Kardinals prevail over Grace Christian, 37-31, in nonconference action at Kenai Central High School on Saturday afternoon.
“Her minutes on the varsity end are going to continue to grow,” Felchle explained, “and when you’re a young player she’s very confident in the JV game but it’s a different ballgame at the varsity level.”
Early in the contest, Wortham had the opportunity to knock down a wide-open 15-footer but instead passed the ball to a teammate.
After Felchle shouted from the sideline for her to shoot the ball, Wortham canned an inside jumper to give Kenai a 12-8 advantage with 5:20 left in the first half.
“We certainly did talk about it,” he said. “The whole game I was yelling at her and when we took one of our timeouts in the fourth quarter, I told her, when she gets the ball in the corner, if she doesn’t look at the basket, she’s coming out of the game. Because she needs to be an offensive threat.”
After a miserable third quarter in which Kenai (4-4) surrendered the ball on five consecutive possessions allowing the Grizzlies to claw within three, Wortham answered the call by sinking a baseline jumper to open the fourth, extending the Kardinals’ lead to 29-22.
“She looked at it and she scored,” Felchle said. “If she’s not going to be an offensive threat, she’s not going to be in there. She finally did that and she started scoring.”
Her baskets were key, as was a game-high 17 points from junior Kyla Steward, in overcoming 30 turnovers for Kenai.
“I’m not sure if I’ve seen a game where it was so hard for us to hang onto the ball,” Felchle said. “It seems like in that first half it got a little bit better in the second half but that first half we could not catch the ball to save our life. We couldn’t hang onto it.”
Actually, it was the second half blunders that nearly cost Kenai the game.
Leading by seven with 5:42 to play in the fourth, the Kardinals turned the ball over on six of seven possessions and Grace cut the deficit to three when senior Lori Marchuk sank two free throws with under three minutes remaining in the contest.
But Steward ended a 3:25 scoring drought when she followed a Samantha Hull miss with a strong rebound and put-back and nailed a jumper only 32 seconds later when Wortham drove and kicked it back outside for a seven-point edge.
“She did very well (Saturday) and she probably saved us many times offensively,” Felchle said of Steward. “She played a solid game.”
Kenai's Kyla Steward takes a shot against Grace Christian in the first half Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Despite coming off the bench, Wortham nearly duplicated the scoring of senior captain Samantha Navarre, who averages nearly 10 points a contest but was out with a knee injury suffered Friday in practice.
“Not having her on the offensive end (Saturday) hurt,” he said. “So, with her out of the lineup I knew that, offensively, we were going to struggle a little bit.
“I told the girls, sometimes you win ugly and we certainly did that,” Felchle added. “That wasn’t a glamorous win. But just like we said in the locker room, it’s a win and we’ll take it.”
Grace Christian boys 60, Kenai 51
After the first 16 minutes of Saturday’s game, Grace Christian looked absolutely nothing like a team with only one loss, which came against highly touted Wasilla in triple overtime.
In the second half, they appeared to be one of the top 3A teams in the state.
The Grizzlies overcame an abysmal 2-for-20 shooting performance in the opening quarter and hit 48 percent of their shots in the second half en route to a stunning comeback victory over the Kardinals.
“Like I told the kids, there’s certainly no disgrace in losing to them,” said Kenai coach Jim Beeson. “They’re a good basketball team. They’re going to be in the state tournament. They’re going to be in the running for the 3A state championship.”
If that’s the case, consider this game the beginning of the possible title run.
Grace trailed 10-5 after Kenai’s Nate Saltzgiver netted seven of his 15 points in the first quarter and by only five at the break, due in part to 10 Kenai turnovers and an equally embarrassing first-half shooting display by the Kardinals (9-of-34).
Despite Kenai (7-2) playing without two of its tallest players in senior Casey Ellis (sprained ankle) and junior Nathan Byrd (ineligible), the Grizzlies failed to take advantage of their big men in the opening half.
“First half we weren’t getting it inside. We were just taking the shot outside. They were not good rhythm shots,” said Grace coach Chuck Boerger. “That was our message at halftime, we need to get inside and if we have something inside, fine, and if we don’t have anything inside then we kick it out and then that person’s going to be wide open.”
The message obviously came through crystal clear.
After both teams strung together 5-0 runs early in the third, the Grizzlies went on a 10-0 spurt during which both senior Lou Karlberg (16 points) and sophomore Leif Karlberg (16 points) sank one from beyond the arc, turning what was a three-point deficit into a 32-27 lead.
Senior Blake Arnold then opened the fourth by capping another incredible 11-0 run that included three of the Grizzlies’ six 3-pointers, five of which were hit by Leif Karlberg, and Grace owned its largest lead of the game at the time, 46-38.
Kenai chipped away, though, getting as close as three when junior Cory Toombs ran off four of his 15 points, but the Grizzlies sank eight straight free throws to seal the thrilling victory.
“We could have done things a lot better offensively, but I thought we played well enough defensively to win the basketball game,” Beeson said. “They did the things that good teams do at the end of basketball games. They take care of the ball and they shoot the ball and they shoot the ball very well and they make free throws.
“It’s just a good test for us, a nonleague game,” he added. “The more good teams you play against, the better you’re going to get.”
KARDINALS 37, GRIZZLIES 31
Grace 6 6 10 9 31
Kenai 6 11 10 10 37
GRACE (31) Marchuk 2 2-4 7, Dupea 0 2-2 2, Metcalf 3 3-7 9, Peck 1 0-0 2, Savage 2 0-1 4, Mestas 3 1-2 7, Anaruk 0 0-1 0. Totals 11 8-17 31.
KENAI (37) Delaney 0 0-0 0, Foley 1 0-2 2, Moore 1 0-1 2, Hull 2 1-2 5, Wortham 4 0-0 8, Craig 1 1-2 3, Steward 7 3-4 17. Totals 16 5-11 37.
3-point goals Grace 1 (Marchuk). Total fouls Grace 15, Kenai 20. Fouled out Metcalf, Foley, Hull.
GRIZZLIES 33, KARDINALS 28
Grace 5 12 18 25 60
Kenai 10 12 11 18 51
GRACE (60) Arnold 1 4-4 7, Lo. Karlberg 6 4-4 16, Le. Karlberg 5 1-4 16, Moll 3 6-8 12, Steck 0 2-2 2, Visser 3 1-1 7. Totals 18 18-23 60.
KENAI (51) Saltzgiver 5 3-4 15, Werba 0 0-0 0, Libert 2 0-0 4, Beeson 2 3-6 8, Toombs 6 2-4 15, Gustkey 2 0-0 5, Chimphalee 1 2-2 4. Totals 18 10-16 51.
3-point goals Grace 6 (Le. Karlberg 5, Arnold 1), Kenai 5 (Saltzgiver 2, Beeson 1, Toombs 1, Gustkey 1). Total fouls Grace 16, Kenai 19. Fouled out none.
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