The Kenai Central boys and the Nikiski girls basketball teams posted wins in nonconference matchups Saturday in Nikiski.
The Kenai boys hit 10-of-15 free throws in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Bulldogs for a 64-53 win. The Nikiski girls, after trailing Kenai early, rallied for a 55-44 win.
"That's about as good a quarter and as good an opening as we've had throughout the season, and it came against the peninsula's best team," said Kenai coach Lee Moore after watching his squad take an 18-11 lead in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs battled back in the second quarter and headed to the locker room with a 21-20 lead as Sarah Herrin closed out the half with a nice drive and basket for Nikiski.
Kenai kept it close and even led 29-27 late in the third quarter after Samantha Navarre scored a basket and hit her free throw for a three-point play, but Nikiski regained the lead at the foul line and kept the Kardinals at bay through the fourth quarter.
"We hustled back on defense, we transitioned better everything clicked better, and we were stronger with the ball," Nikiski's Sasha Auldridge said of her team's comeback effort.
In addition to battling an improved Kenai team, the Bulldogs also played most of the game without Hannah Thompson, who left the game late in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. Nikiski coach Ward Romans said he was breathing easier later Saturday evening when he learned Thompson's shoulder was a severely bruised, but nothing was broken or torn.
"With Hannah going out, it forced us into a predicament where kids had to play long minutes. Our conditioning has always been one of our strengths, and it was tested tonight because Kenai played a lot of kids," Romans said.
Romans credited Auldridge with a great game from her point guard position and added that the play of Whitney Hitchcock, Krystal Gladden and Stacey Griffel gave the team a boost after losing Thompson.
"When Hannah got hurt, a bunch of players stepped up. They weren't afraid. They were all confident," Auldridge said.
Herrin picked up the bulk of the scoring load, scoring 28 points for the Bulldogs.
Auldridge said the Bulldogs treat each game as a chance to get better and each opponent can help them figure out what areas of their own game need improvement.
"The more things we can learn from each team, the more it will help us," Auldridge said. "We can pull through a lot of things."
Samantha Calderwood led the Kardinals with 13 points, 11 of them in the first quarter, and Amber McGlasson finished with 10.
"We played with a lot more heart. Everybody was trying their best on the floor," Calderwood said. "It makes such a difference, the adrenaline and confidence we gain when we start the game well. It makes a huge difference.
"I think we're still a little inconsistent, but we're definitely improving, too."
The Kenai boys did their best to slow down Nikiski's fast-paced approach, opting to slow things down with a halfcourt spread offense whenever they could.
"We wanted to slow it down and get in our halfcourt set so we could play our game," said Kenai's Josh Bennett. "We didn't want to play that up-tempo game with them. We're not a run-and-gun team, and we didn't want to get caught up in that."
The fourth quarter started with the score tied at 46, but Brandon Miles and Jordan Jenckes hit back-to-back baskets to give Kenai a four-point lead.
Nikiski's Steven Taylor answered with a two-point basket, but the Bulldogs never got any closer.
"I thought we responded good in the fourth quarter," Bennett said. "We didn't get down on each other when things weren't going great, especially in the fourth quarter. We played though everything. We kept playing good."
Jenckes scored 21 to lead the Kardinals while Kevin Epperheimer chipped in with 13, including a 5-for-5 effort from the foul line in the fourth quarter, and Miles finished with 10 points.
Travis McGahan led Nikiski's attack with 25 points while Taylor scored 10.
"I think we played as a team better than we have in the past. We're starting to bond in a way that we're trusting each other with the ball," McGahan said. "Shooting is the only thing we need to work on, and limiting turnovers. With the way our team works, I think we'll have no problem with that toward the end of the season."
BULLDOGS 55, KARDINALS 44
Kenai 18 2 12 12 44
Nikiski 11 10 16 18 55
KENAI (44) Navarre 2 1-1 5, Keener 2 4-7 8, Foley 0 2-2 2, Dunn 0 0-0 0, McGlasson 3 4-5 10, Calderwood 6 0-0 13, Craig 1 0-0 2, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Kiel 0 0-0 0, Brewer 2 0-0 4, Moore 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 11-15 44.
NIKISKI (55) Lee 0 0-0 0, Carlson 1 0-0 3, Gladden 1 2-4 4, Griffel 0 6-8 6, Auldridge 1 5-6 7, Thompson 1 0-0 3, Herrin 8 11-14 28, Hitchcock 1 2-4 4, Pritchard 0 0-1 0, Jorgensen 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 26-37 55.
3-point goals Kenai 1 (Calderwood), Nikiski 3 (Carlson, Thompson, Herrin). Total fouls Kenai 26, Nikiski 12. Fouled out Keener, Calderwood. Technical fouls Kenai bench.
KARDINALS 64, BULLDOGS 53
Kenai 15 14 17 18 64
Nikiski 13 15 18 7 53
KENAI (64) Hansen 1 0-0 2, Saltzgiver 3 0-0 8, Chappell 0 0-0 0, Reemtsma 0 0-0 0, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Epperheimer 3 7-10 13, Miles 4 2-2 10, Faumui 0 0-2 0, Krusen 0 0-0 0, McLeod 3 1-2 7, Bennett 0 3-4 3, Jenckes 10 1-4 21.
NIKISKI (53) Hemphill 2 3-4 7, Taylor 4 1-2 10, Kellie 0 0-0 0, Curren 2 4-4 8, Holloway 1 0-0 3, Vance 0 0-2 0, McGahan 11 3-7 25. Totals 20 11-19 53.
3-point goals Kenai 2 (Saltzgiver 2), Nikiski 2 (Taylor). Total fouls Kenai 19, Nikiski 22. Fouled out Curren.
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