The rapidly improving Soldotna boys left the Kenai Kardinals looking for answers Saturday, dominating the Kardinals at both ends of the floor to pull out a 46-37 Region III/4A win Saturday in Kenai.
Junior guard Ryan Hall scored a game-high 21 points, and junior center Matt Hicks held down the paint to help SoHi to its second big win in a row. SoHi beat Region III foe Homer last weekend.
The game was actually close throughout, with the teams tied at 21 going into the second half.
After Hicks got into foul trouble in the third, Kenai scored a couple easy inside buckets to take a 30-27 lead entering the fourth. But the Kards managed only one field goal in the final eight minutes of the game, while Soldotna exploded for 19 points to pull away.
Following the game, SoHi head coach Bill Withrow said he's excited with how his team appears to be starting to come together after impressive wins against peninsula foes after Soldotna struggled early in the season.
"They're growing up a little bit," Withrow said.
Withrow said he was impressed with the way Soldotna played, especially on the defensive end of the court, where the Stars kept Kenai from getting a single player into double figures.
"I think we played pretty solid on defense as a team and rebounded pretty well, too," Withrow said.
The bulk of that defensive effort was carried by Hicks, a bulky 6-foot-3 center who kept Kenai from getting good looks inside all night. Hicks finished the game with seven rebounds and six blocked shots to go along with his 13 points.
"He's a load," Withrow said.
Withrow gave credit to his entire team, which seemed to gain confidence as the game wore on.
"They're starting to figure out how to play as a team," he said.
In contrast, the Kardinals appeared out of rhythm all game. Although the Kardinals took good care of the ball committing just nine turnovers on the game Kenai never could get into the offensive flow of things.
"Shots weren't dropping, things just weren't happening the way they should have," said Kenai head coach Rich Bartolowits afterward.
Kenai was led by eight points each from Barnes, Geoffery Gemmell and Ryann Hansen, as none of the Kardinals seemed able to find the scoring touch. Bartolowits said he's not sure what Kenai needs to do after losing four out of its last five games, including three losses to the peninsula's other Region III teams.
"They're better than they've played the last few games," Bartolowits said. "I don't know what it is right now."
Kenai girls 35, Soldotna girls 26
Led by solid play from its only two seniors, the Kenai girls held off a late charge by the Soldotna Stars to pull away for a Region III/4A win Saturday in Kenai.
Breezy Saltzgiver led the Kardinals with 14 points and five steals, and Laura Moore chipped in 12 points to help Kenai earn the win in a sloppy, back-and-forth affair.
"It was one of those where we played ugly but you win, so it's a good thing," said Kenai head coach Jim Beeson following the game.
Baskets were at a premium early Saturday, as neither team seemed able to find the scoring touch. The Stars were especially out of sync early, committing 11 turnovers in the first quarter while scoring just two points to Kenai's six.
The Kards stretched the early lead to 8-2 in the second quarter before SoHi freshman center Kaylee Wilbanks went up strong down low for a layup and was fouled by Kenai's Sam Calderwood. Wilbanks converted her free throw to trim the lead to 8-5, which was edged up to 10-7 after Kenai's Jamie Peterson hit a short jumper.
Soldotna then pulled within one after consecutive buckets by SoHi junior captain Brittany Howard. However, Kenai ended the quarter on a 4-0 run to finish off the half ahead 14-9.
Soldotna managed to outscore the Kards by one in the third quarter, 9-8, leaving Kenai up 22-18 entering the final minutes.
Kenai led off the fourth with a Lindsay Keener put-back basket, but SoHi quickly capitalized on a Kenai turnover to get to within three when SoHi freshman Christa Kennedy hit a three-pointer from the top of the key. Kennedy led Soldotna with 10 points on the game, and the trey appeared to give the Stars a bit of momentum.
Kenai sophomore Amber McGlasson quickly turned the tide back in favor of Kenai when she followed up a clutch basket with a steal of an errant SoHi pass. McGlasson was fouled by Wilbanks on her breakaway attempt, and made one of two free throws to push the lead back to six.
That's when Saltzgiver and Moore took over, with Saltzgiver dribbling circles around the SoHi defense for much of the quarter. When Saltzgiver wasn't handling the ball, she was dishing to Moore, who scored six of the game's final 11 points to ice the win.
Following the game, SoHi head coach Mark Tuter gave his young team credit which features no seniors on its roster for hanging with the Kards on their home court.
"We're not as ragged as we have been," Tuter said. "We have to learn how to win."
Tuter said the play of Saltzgiver and Moore was the difference down the stretch, as Kenai's experienced guards were no match for Soldotna's youth brigade.
"Kenai won it at the end," he said. "That's what you expect out of your senior leaders."
Saturday's boys game
STARS 46, KARDINALS 37
Kenai 10 11 9 7 37
Soldotna 13 8 6 19 46
KENAI (37) Hansen 2 4-5 8, Craig 1 3-4 5, Jenckes 1 2-2 4, Gemmell 3 2-4 8, Bennett 2 0-2 4, Barnes 4 0-1 8. Totals 13 11-18 37.
SOLDOTNA (46) Turnbull 0 0-0 0, Pate 0 0-0 0, Hall 7 7-10 21, Spindler 1 0-0 2, Besse 1 2-3 4, Stone 0 0-1 0, Hicks 4 5-8 13, Seggerman 2 2-2 6, Roberts 2 2-2 6. Totals 9 5-12 26.
3-point goals none. Total fouls Kenai 17, Soldotna 13. Fouled out Gemmell.
Saturday's girls game
KARDINALS 35, STARS 26
Kenai 6 8 8 13 35
Soldotna 2 7 9 8 26
KENAI (35) Saltzgiver 5 4-4 14, Keener 1 0-0 2, Foley 0 0-0 0, Dunn 0 0-0 0, McGlasson 1 1-3 3, Steiner 0 0-0 0, Moore 5 2-2 12, Calderwood 1 0-1 2, Peterson 1 0-0 2, Navarre 0 0-0 0, Kiel 0 0-0 0, Brewer 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 7-10 35.
SOLDOTNA (26) Smith 0 0-0 0, McCown 1 1-2 3, Jones 0 0-0 0, Kennedy 4 1-3 10, Howard 2 2-4 6, Bell 1 0-0 2, Marey 0 0-0 0, Wilbanks 2 1-3 5. Totals 9 5-12 26.
3-point goals Soldotna 1 (Kennedy 1). Total fouls Kenai 14, Soldotna 11. Fouled out none.
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