Ketchikan's Molly Ortiz and Soldotna's Jessi Stenga collide in the third period Friday at SoHi.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Chris Hanson didn't think twice.
In fact, he didn't even think about it once.
When 6-foot-3 post Liam Andrus picked up his fourth foul with 4:45 remaining in a four-point affair against visiting Ketchikan on Friday, Soldotna's coach passed up viable options on the bench in favor of leaving Andrus in the tight game.
"I just thought, 'Hey, we've gotten to this point with him and we'll ride him a little bit and see where he takes us,'" Hanson said.
With Ketchikan trailing by 16 at halftime before closing to within one point on four different occasions in the fourth quarter, Andrus poured in seven of his team-high 22 points down the stretch in handing the Kings, tied with Dimond for the top spot in the prep poll, a 69-60 defeat, their first setback of the season.
"I think at that point in the game, you've got to go with the guys that have gotten you to this point. And that's where we went," Hanson explained. "I thought we had a real team effort. I thought different kids came up big for us. I thought we ran our offense, we were able to utilize our big guy and Liam really stepped up and was an animal for us in the middle there."
Skeptics may say the victory wasn't as monumental as it could have been because the Kings were without 6-foot-9 center Damen Bellholter, who has already committed to play at Missouri State but missed the trip to the peninsula.
The Stars don't care to hear it.
"I told our kids, 'You're in a tough situation. If you win, it's because they didn't have the big kid. If you lose, how could you lose, because they didn't have the big kid.' I told my kids, 'This is going to be a very tough game. These guys are not ... undefeated because of one kid,'" Hanson said. "So, we knew it'd be tough, it'd be a fight. I thought our kids fought hard."
Trading jabs throughout most of the second half, the Kings who improved to 14-1 with a 90-49 victory at Nikiski on Saturday snatched the momentum from the early moments of the third quarter.
Opening the half on an 10-0 run, three of Jase Scudero's game-high 25 points coming on the spurt, Ketchikan clawed to within six with 4:27 to play in the third.
But Andrus immediately stretched the lead back to nine with a nifty three-point play, drawing the foul on a perfect pick-and-roll with Michael Bauder.
The Kings continued fighting, though, capping a 64 percent performance (9-of-14) in the quarter with a 7-2 run that brought them within two after three quarters.
"I said, 'If you can get within three points there before the end of the third quarter, I mean get within four or five, I think we've got a good chance to take the game,'" said Ketchikan coach Jerry Scudero. "The boys got a lot of heart."
Just 13 seconds into the fourth, Simeon Schum (21 points) sank 1-of-2 free throws to trim the deficit to one, but Ryan Shelton promptly made it a three-point game again with his only bucket of the evening.
Again slicing the lead to one when Jase Scudero hit an outside jumper with 6:56 left, Brad Blossom went coast-to-coast for two of his 17 points and Bauder then extended the lead to five with a wide-open trey one minute later.
"We've been in situations this year where we didn't fight in those same exact situations," Hanson said. "So, I'm really proud of the kids."
The Kings came within a single point twice more in the quarter, the second time with under two minutes to play. But both times the Stars responded, Matt Grubb hitting a pair of free throws for two of his 10 points and Andrus receiving a no-look pass from a driving Blossom for an easy basket.
A technical foul on Jerry Scudero helped secure the game as Blossom canned two more free throws and Grubb made one for an eight-point game with 46 seconds left.
"Four times, one point. We never could get over that," Jerry Scudero said. "If you look at our free throws (7-of-19), our free throws were horrendous. We probably could have put it away.
"There's the story right there. And then the technical at the end from the coach doesn't help. That was my fault," he added. "You can't just get to that one point. You've got to get over that. But like I said, spotting them 16 points in the first quarter, that's a tough thing to overcome there in the first half."
Bellholter's mammoth presence inside wouldn't have mattered much Friday, as the Stars were lethal from the perimeter, opening the game with four consecutive 3-pointers before finishing the contest 7-for-15 (47 percent) from beyond the arc and 22-of-45 (49 percent) overall.
"I think in the first half it really got us to where we were at the first half," Hanson said. "But I think second half, we ran our offense, we showed some discipline and that's what was good for us."
The other telling example was SoHi's ability to handle the ball in the waning moments of the game, maintaining every possession after turning the ball over 22 times in the first 29 1/2 minutes.
"I've been doing it long enough that basketball's a game of runs and they made a real nice run to bring it back and we weathered that, I thought, real well in the first half. But they had a real nice run there in the second half," Hanson said. "We got away from running our offense, which we kind of shot ourselves in the foot for the first six minutes of the third quarter (six turnovers) there. But we got back on track."
The Stars squandered an 11-point, second-quarter lead in falling to the Kings for the second time this season.
Making matters even more disappointing for Soldotna is the manner in which they lost again.
They fell behind early in the second half and recaptured the lead just once more before surrendering it the rest of the way.
Stars coach Mark Tuter said the trajectory of the game was a mirror image of the first meeting, when SoHi led by 14 in the second quarter before losing by one point.
"There was no mystery at all. They played exactly like I thought they would," he said. "The game followed the same exact pattern as the first time. We kind of tired, we got tired of doing it right and they just kept doing what they did."
What the Kings did was pressure the Stars the moment they inbounded the ball and didn't stop until they forced a turnover, something they did 20 times over the final three quarters.
"Every bit as good," Tuter said when asked to compare Ketchikan's defense in both games. "We've been practicing against the press, but like I said, we just need to handle it better."
Trailing by three at halftime, the Kings who improved to 10-4 with a win over Nikiski on Saturday opened the second half on a 7-0 spurt, the first six points coming from Alexis Edwardson, who scored a game-high 22 points.
SoHi retook a one-point lead on a free throw by Jessi Stenga (14 points) and a bucket by Paige Blackburn (12 points).
But three turnovers in the final three minutes led to a trey by sophomore Laci Effenberger (13 points) and consecutive layups by Edwardson for a 45-40 advantage after three quarters.
Down by seven with 3:05 to play, Stenga single-handedly brought the Stars back.
In a 19-second span, she yanked down three offensive rebounds and put them all back for a six-point swing and a 52-51 game with 2:30 left.
"Jessi, I thought, played a very, very good game this time," Tuter said. "Jessi's been doing a good job for us. And she'll continue to do a good job."
That would be as close as SoHi would come, though, as the Stars missed their final five shots from the field while the Kings hit four free throws down the stretch.
"That's a tough one to lose here on your home court," Tuter said. "We thought we should have got over the hump against them but we didn't. But maybe if we get to state, we'll get to play them at state."
Ketchikan coach Melissa Johnson is thinking the same thing.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the state in that they have everything," she said. "And hopefully we'll see them in the state finals. And hopefully it will end the same way it ended (Friday)."
Jazzie Gaddy scored 14 points and the visiting Thunderbirds outscored the Stars 14-4 in the first period en route to a win on Saturday.
Trailing by 10 points at halftime, SoHi (7-4) strung together a 17-12 third period, but it wasn't enough to overcome the deficit.
Blackburn led the Stars with 16 points while Karen Senette added nine.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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