Tuesday night was senior night at Skyview High School, but it was Kenai Central's seniors that prevailed in tight Region III/4A boys and girls contests.
In the girls game, Kenai slowed the game down with a 28-24 lead and 6:48 left in the fourth quarter. The ballhandling of seniors Laura Moore and Breezy Saltzgiver, as well as sophomore Lindsey Keener, made the slowdown tactic work and let the Kardinals earn a 36-27 victory.
In the boys game, the Kardinals survived getting battered on the boards thanks to the cool shooting of seniors Geoffrey Gemmell and Nick Barnes. Gemmell had 20 points and Barnes added 18 in a 57-54 Kenai victory.
The Kenai girls clinched the No. 2 seed for the Region III tournament, which starts March 11. The Kardinals improved to 4-5 in the region with the victory and have a game Friday against Soldotna left on their region schedule. Skyview fell to 2-7 in the region.
Kardinals coach Jim Beeson said clinching the No. 2 seed is a big deal because Kenai now avoids playing Colony or Wasilla in the first round of the tournament.
Wasilla defeated Kenai 58-22 this year and Colony knocked off the Kards 58-26. Kenai actually had a lead in the third quarter before Palmer posted a 43-29 victory.
The Kardinals were able to clinch the No. 2 seed thanks to a strong defensive effort in the second half. The game was tied at 20 at the end of the first half, but Kenai allowed just seven points in the second half in posting the victory.
In the third quarter, Skyview went 2 of 10 from the field and Keener scored six points as Kenai jumped out to a 28-24 lead.
"We definitely played a lot harder on defense in the second half," Beeson said.
The coach had so much confidence in his team's ability to stop Skyview that he started a slowdown game with 6:48 remaining.
Beeson said his players were supposed to drive to the basket if the opportunity presented itself. Whenever Kenai would drive, however, Skyview would collapse on the ballhandler. An open Kardinal would then pop out near the midcourt stripe and start the tactic all over again.
Skyview coach Wade Marcuson said it wasn't Kenai's offensive tactic that decided the game. The Panthers caused some turnovers and Kenai missed some free throws, but Skyview couldn't cash in on the opportunities.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers were 1 of 4 from the foul line, including missing the front end of a bonus. Skyview also was 1 of 2 from the floor and had six turnovers.
"Our seniors did a good job of keeping the intensity up," Marcuson said. "We did what we had to do on defense. We just couldn't get going on offense in the second half."
Saltzgiver paced the Kardinals with 12 points, while Keener added 10. Senior Lindsay Gephardt had 11 points to lead Skyview.
The victory means the Kardinals can lock up the No. 2 seed in the region with a victory over Soldotna Friday.
Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits said the victory over a tough Panthers squad, and not the ramifications for seeding, means the most to him.
No matter where you're seeded, you're still going to have to beat tough teams to get to state, Bartolowits said. You can go in through the front door, the back door or the side door. We'll even kick the door in if we have to.
The loss also gives Soldotna a chance to still tie Skyview for the No. 1 seed in the final region standings. If Soldotna can beat Kenai Friday and Skyview Saturday, the Stars and the Panthers will be tied in the region standings.
Skyview coach Dave Blossom pondered some tiebreaking situations for a few seconds, then cut such talk short.
We've just got to win, Blossom said. It's that simple.
Blossom felt his squad put forth the effort it takes to win Tuesday, but Skyview could not cash in on short shots in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers were 5 of 17 from the floor in the final quarter. The Panthers were trailing 52-51 with about 2 minutes left in the game when the Panthers missed five shots on one offensive possession.
A layup by Barnes put Kenai ahead 54-51 with 1:25 left, and Skyview would not score again until a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Panthers never had a hot shooting touch all night, but were able to stay in the game thanks to grabbing 36 rebounds.
In the end, the penetration of Barnes was too much. Two of Skyview's more athletic and taller defenders, Kaleb Shields and Ryan Geller, both finished with four fouls.
Some of it was the foul trouble, but a lot of it was Barnes just playing a great game, Blossom said.
Senior Nathan Schmidt had 13 points to lead the Panthers, while junior Zack Rowell added 11.
Our seniors did a good job, Blossom said. The effort was there.
SKYVIEW (27) Heffner 1 0-0 2, Gephardt 4 3-4 11, Al. Fay 0 0-0 0, Dalebout 1 2-2 4, Bonebrake 2 0-0 4, Dreifuerst 0 0-2 0, Blake 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Garrant 1 2-2 4, Am. Fay 1 0-0 2. Totals 10 7-10 27.
3-point goals none. Team fouls Kenai 14, Skyview 22. Fouled out none.
SKYVIEW (54) Smith 1 0-0 2, Shields 1 0-0 2, Rowell 5 0-0 11, Blossom 3 2-2 8, Schmidt 5 3-7 13, Hatfield 4 1-2 9, Geller 4 0-2 9. Totals 22 6-13 54.
3-point goals Skyview 1 (Geller 1). Team fouls Kenai 11, Skyview 19. Fouled out none.
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