March Madness begins quickly

SoHi boys ring in new month with comeback win over Kenai

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008


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  Soldotna's Jessi Stenga goes up for a shot in the first quarter Saturday against Kenai. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Soldotna's Karen Senette battles Kenai's Amanda Mills for a loose ball in the first quarter Saturday at SoHi.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Careful the description you give, for choosing upset or dream sequence just wouldn't be correct.

March Madness? Yes, and it tipped off rivalry style on the Kenai Peninsula Saturday night.

In front of a senior night full house, Soldotna roared back from a 13-point deficit late in the third quarter to stagger Kenai Central 57-52 in Northern Lights Conference boys high school basketball.

The victory catapulted the hosts to a varsity sweep of their rival neighbors. Earlier, the Soldotna girls cruised to a 63-22 victory.

The Stars of boys head coach Chris Hanson were a clinic of efficiency in the final 10 minutes. Soldotna didn't make a turnover and scored on 17 of its final 19 possessions, including the final 12 straight. The Stars made five of their last six shots from the field and 14 of their final 17 foul shots including 10 straight dipping from the five-minute mark to the final 60 seconds.

"Coach always tells us that at the end of the game you have got to be surgical," said senior Larson Kohler, who led the Stars with 22 points. "You have to play every possession like it counts."


Soldotna's Jessi Stenga goes up for a shot in the first quarter Saturday against Kenai.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Hanson gave a sigh of relief and shake of his head in proudly describing his team's effort.

"Some might call it an upset, but we expected to win," Hanson said. "That's a good victory over a very good team. Tonight, we fought our way out of a hole. We learned a lot last weekend about composure. And tonight we did a good job with our focus."

Kenai's biggest lead, 35-22, came with 2:02 to play in the third period. Kohler got the fire started with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 55 seconds of the period, just missing a 60-foot on-line heave at the buzzer that hit the front of the rim.

Soldotna (14-7, 6-4 NLC) equaled its first-half scoring output in the third period, but trailed 35-30 entering the final eight minutes.

Still down 40-34 after a three-point play conversion by Kardinals senior Nathan Byrd, the Stars went on an 11-1 spree, then added four of the next six points to lead 49-43.

Kohler, senior Brad Blossom, junior Liam Andrus and junior Matt Grubb hit shots in the run. Defensively, Kohler's work under the glass drew the fourth foul of senior Cory Toombs and Grubb drew the fourth foul of senior Zach Beeson on a block/charge call the latter with the score tied at 41.

Grubb's bucket with 2:11 to play on a drive from a spread offense was Soldotna's last field goal. The Stars were 10 of 12 at the foul line the rest of the way.

Kenai (16-6, 7-3 NLC) drew within 54-52 with 29.2 seconds left on foul shots by Byrd, and when Grubb only made one of two with 23.8 left the Kardinals had their chance down three.

But a good 3-point look by Kards' senior Daniel Gustkey was in-and-out, a putback by Toombs was blocked and a final 3-pointer from Toombs off the left wing was rebounded by Kohler with three seconds to go.

In addition to Kohler's 22, Blossom finished with 11 points and Andrus nine. Soldotna shot 50 percent from the floor, won the board battle 28-24 and only committed 10 turnovers.

Toombs led the Kardinals with 21 points and Byrd had 18. Kenai shot 43.1 percent and only had 10 turnovers.

"Every time we play Kenai, it's such a good game," Kohler said. "The intensity rises."

Even to what anyone would call a maddening level.

Soldotna girls 63, Kenai 22

Stars' seniors Karen Duffy, Paige Blackburn and Shelly Barker went out in style with a 41-point rout of the Kardinals.

Soldotna's 2-3 storm defense a zone that goes for double teams and overplays passing lanes left Kenai feeling as though more than five players were defending its offense. The Kardinals suffered to the tune of 7-of-30 floor shooting (23.3 percent) and 28 turnovers 20 of which came in the first 16 minutes while Soldotna built a 36-12 lead.

The Stars (15-6, 8-2 NLC) made a cavalcade of shots in transition, finishing the evening at 50.9 percent from the floor. Soldotna registered nine steals in the opening period and finished with a whopping 20 led by a half dozen from junior Jessi Stenga.

"In the third quarter, we were working on our full-court zone pressure," Barker said. "Hopefully, that'll be a factor we need at state."

Sophomore Karen Senette pushed through 18 points, Duffy 12 and Blackburn 11. Stenga's all-around showcase included eight points, six steals, six rebounds and six assists.

Junior Hannah Delaney led the Kardinals (10-12, 3-7 NLC) with nine points.

"Soldotna's a good team," said Kenai head coach Ken Felchle. "We had a big win over Skyview, and that allowed us to accomplish a lot of goals. But we've got to learn to compete every game."

Both schools head to the region tourney this week, and Barker and teammates know there's four capable schools vying for three spots to the state tourney.

"The three Valley teams and us, we're all highly ranked," Barker said. "But only three will go to state. It's going to take a lot of desire because all four are really strong teams."



Kenai 8 4 6 4 22

Soldotna 21 15 17 10 63

KENAI (23) Ross 0 0-0 0, Delaney 3 2-2 9, Coupchiak 0 0-0 0, Flanagan 0 0-0 0, Gabriel 0 0-0 0, Mills 2 0-0 5, Kennedy 1 0-0 2, Wortham 0 0-0 0, Steward 0 4-6 4, Garcia 1 0-0 2. Totals 7 6-8 22.

SOLDOTNA (63) Forbes 1 0-0 2, Senette 8 0-0 18, Stenga 3 2-6 8, Jensen 1 0-0 2, Dykstra 0 0-0 0, Heffner 2 0-0 4, Hardy 0 0-0 0, Duffy 5 2-4 12, Barker 2 0-1 6, Blackburn 5 1-2 11. Totals 27 5-13 63.

3-point goals Kenai 2 (Delaney, Mills); Soldotna 4 (Senette 2, Barker 2). Total fouls Kenai 11, Soldotna 10. Technical fouls none. Fouled out none.



Kenai 11 9 15 17 52

Soldotna 6 9 15 27 57

KENAI (52) Ferguson 0 0-0 0, Rabung 0 0-0 0, Saltzgiver 1 0-0 2, Kiefer 0 0-0 0, Chimphalee 1 0-0 2, Byrd 6 4-5 18, Toombs 8 4-5 21, Libert 0 0-0 0, Beeson 1 1-3 3, Lazaro 0 0-0 0, Gustkey 2 2-2 6. Total 19 11-15 52.

SOLDOTNA (57) Carver 0 0-0 0, Br. Blossom 3 5-6 11, Grubb 1 5-7 7, Bauder 0 2-2 2, Geller 0 0-1 0, Barkman 0 0-0 0, Kohler 6 6-6 22, Andrus 3 3-4 9, Shelton 2 2-4 6. Totals 15 23-30 57.

3-point goals Kenai 3 (Byrd 2, Toombs); Soldotna 4 (Kohler 4). Total fouls Kenai 26, Soldotna 16. Technical fouls none. Fouled out Byrd, Beeson, Lazaro, Andrus.

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