Every time Port Lions' girls responded to a flurry of Nikiski points, the Bulldogs answered right back. At the end, it was Nikiski's final push that gave it a 50-40 win over the visiting Kings on Friday.
"There were a bunch of momentum swings," Bulldogs head coach Lee Moore said.
Having played in similar situations this season, Moore said his girls have come up on the losing end. But their experience helped Nikiski remain positive and notch a win.
"Tonight was a nice test to see if they've made steps in the right direction, and they have," Moore said.
Despite being an inexperienced team to start the year, the Bulldogs have gained the basketball knowledge to come back in back-and-forth games, said senior Kassi Johnson.
"At the beginning of the season, we'd get down and stay down," she said. "We've definitely come a long way."
Johnson said her teammates didn't let the small crowd or frequent momentum shifts affect them.
"We kept our intensity up," she said.
The Kings cut Nikiski's 15-point lead to six in the fourth quarter. Makenzie Moore then broke 3 1/2 scoreless minutes with a bucket. Four Port Lions points off of Nikiski turnovers cut the Bulldogs' lead to 44-37 with under two minutes to play.
"If it was early in the season, I would have been way more scared," Johnson said of seeing her team's lead disappear. But Nikiski was relaxed and didn't panic late in the game, she said.
Makenzie was sent to the line, shooting one-on-one, late in the fourth. She drained the first and missed the second. But Johnson came down with the offensive board. Though she missed the put-back attempt, Kinsey Martin grabbed another offensive rebound for Nikiski and made the basket, giving the Bulldogs a 10-point lead.
Makenzie said Nikiski debuted a new trap defense.
"That really worked well for us," she said.
Makenzie paced Nikiski with 12 points. Johnson and Savannah Griffel each scored 11. Cierra Robustellini had a team-high 22 points for the Kings.
Coach Moore said his team showed several, different offenses and defenses in the game. Though it can be confusing, coach Moore said his team was able to play many systems and made adjustments as the game progressed.
"It's very challenging to play that way," he said. "It is very encouraging to see them think while they play."
In the first half, the Bulldogs worked the ball down low to Makenzie often. That then opened up shots from the outside, she said.
After a back-and-forth opening to the game, Nikiski ended the first quarter with an 8-2 run. The Bulldogs held a five-point advantage after eight minutes.
Port Lions cut the deficit to three two times during the second quarter, but Nikiski again erupted for a string of points. The Bulldogs scored 12 unanswered points to end the half leading 29-14.
During Nikiski's second-quarter run, Britany Tuttle made her first free throw but missed her second. However, Johnson grabbed the rebound, drained the bucket and drew a foul. Johnson then converted the 3-point play.
Nikiski then turned two Kings turnovers into four point quick points. Makenzie scored after a Port Lions travel. On the Kings' next possession, Angie Parrish got a steal and threw a long pass to Johnson. She missed her first shot but Johnson got her own rebound and put the layup in.
"Kassi Johnson did a great job rebounding," coach Moore said.
The Bulldogs scored 14 first-half points off of Port Lions turnovers. Nikiski held the Kings to just five points in the second quarter.
Port Lions cut Nikiski's lead to eight in the third quarter, but Griffel drained a 3-pointer to end 5 1/2 scoreless minutes for the Bulldogs. Griffel nailed another shot from 3-point land after a Johnson steal.
"That kind of got us going again," coach Moore said of Griffel's back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs held a 15-point lead after 24 minutes of play.
Friday's game was Nikiski's senior night. Johnson is the Bulldogs only senior.
The team is much different this year compared to years past when Ward Romans -- who coached Nikiski girls basketball for two decades -- was at the helm, she said. But different isn't a negative.
"It's still been a really good experience for me," Johnson said.
Johnson said Nikiksi basketball is about more than just playing a sport.
"The coaches teach us what's going to happen in life," she said. "I'm not just a good basketball player, but a good woman."
Heritage boys 66, Nikiski 39
Heritage Christian notched a Southcentral Conference victory over the visiting Bulldogs on Saturday.
Amos Vreeman poured in 26 points for the Eagles, including six 3-pointers. Jeremiah Ridgeway added 19 for the Eagles, while Jesse Miessner had 17 points.
Lucas Herrin led Nikiski with 18 points.
Bulldogs 50, Kings 40
Port Lions 9 5 9 17 -- 40
Nikiski 14 15 9 12 -- 50
PORT LIONS (40) -- C. Robustellini 9 4-8 22, M. Bjornn 0 0-0 0, R. Boskofokg 0 0-2 0, M. Strong 2 0-2 4, K. Strong 3 1-2 8, S. Bjornn 0 0-0 0, K. Bendixen 0 1-2 1. Totals -- 16 7-17 40.
NIKISKI (50) -- S. Griffel 3 3-4 11, D. Holloway 1 0-2 2, K. Johnson 5 1-2 11, B. Tuttle 2 1-2 5, A. Parrish 2 0-0 4, M. Moore 4 4-8 12, K. Martin 2 1-3 5. Totals -- 19 10-21 50.
3-point goals -- Port Lions 1 (K. Strong 1); Nikiski 2 (Griffel 2). Team fouls -- Port Lions 18; Nikiski 19. Fouled out -- Martin.
Eagles 66, Bulldogs 39
Nikiski 9 3 8 17 --39
Heritage 20 10 20 16 --66
NIKISKI (39) --Anderson 0 0-0 0, Seater 2 0-0 4, Wik 3 2-4 9, Herrin 6 6-8 18, Taylor 0 0-1 0, Krogseng 2 4-4 8. Totals -- 13 12-17 39.
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN (66) -- Beier 0 0-0 0, Hanks 1 0-0 2, Millar 1 0-2 2, Ridgeway 7 3-4 19, Brand 0 0-0 0, Miessner 7 1-1 17, G. Vreeman 0 0-0 0, A. Vreeman 10 0-0 26, Lebaron 0 0-0 0, Brady 0 0-0 0. Totals --26 4-7 66.
3-point goals -- Nikiski 1 (Wik 1); Heritage 10 (A. Vreeman 6, Ridgeway 2, Miessner 2). Team fouls -- Nikiski 11, Heritage 15. Fouled out -- G. Vreeman.
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