Soldotna's Tony Besse and Kenai's Casey Ellis battle for a rebound under SoHi's net in the first quarter Saturday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
One Nate kept Kenai in the game and the other propelled the Kardinals to victory.
Junior Nathan Byrd scored 10 of Kenai’s first 12 points and junior Nate Saltzgiver poured in 11 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter as the Kardinals cruised past fourth-ranked Soldotna, 62-51, on Saturday night in the Class 4A regular-season finale at Kenai Central High School.
After the team’s first two meetings this season came down to last-second shots, the Kardinals owned the Stars for the final 19 minutes of this contest.
“It was much better,” Kenai coach Jim Beeson said. “I’m glad it didn’t come down to a last-second shot this time.”
The duo of Nate and Nate made sure it didn’t.
Byrd ran off 10 consecutive Kardinals points spanning the first and second periods and then sank a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the arc for a 21-17 advantage.
Then it was Saltzgiver’s turn.
After sinking his first shot only 1:10 into the contest and then missing seven in a row, Saltzgiver went on a tear.
He canned six straight shots including back-to-back treys to close out the first half before he swiped the ball from SoHi’s Brad Blossom in the backcourt, causing them both to hit the ground.
Saltzgiver then hurried to his feet, corralled the ball and layed it in for a 42-31 advantage with nearly two minutes to play in the third.
“Gets right back up and keeps going and makes the lay in,” Beeson said. “That’s just his demeanor about everything.”
“When he plays well, we all play well,” he added. “Everybody else kinds of feeds off of him.”
Finishing 9-of-16 from the floor, Saltzgiver said he was still a bit discouraged with the early cold spell.
“A little bit,” he said. “Every person does, but your team steps up and they start scoring, so you get pumped up again and ready to play.”
While usual sharpshooter Cory Toombs hit only two of eight shots for 12 points, the Kardinals were fortunate that Byrd and Saltzgiver turned in solid performances.
Soldotna's Mikala Smith concedes a loose ball to Kenai's Katie Foley in the second quarter Saturday night at Kenai Central.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“Nate Byrd kind of stepped up in that first half and contributed a lot of big points on the offensive side of the basketball. That’s what we didn’t have last weekend against Kodiak, when someone wasn’t shooting the ball well, everybody wasn’t shooting the ball well,” Beeson explained. “Nate kind of saved our bacon there in the first half and kept us in the basketball game. Everybody played well.”
Saltzgiver scored four more points on a 10-0 run to open the fourth, extending the lead to 52-35 and Toombs went 5-of-9 from the line down the stretch to help preserve the win.
“It feels really good to help your team, especially against a rival team like Soldotna,” Saltzgiver said.
Despite owning a noticeable size advantage, the Stars (17-5) had trouble finding the bottom of the net from the low post as seniors Tony Besse and Kelly Seggerman were limited to 14 and nine points, respectively.
“I think we missed some easy shots, not so much because of defense. I just think that we missed some uncontested shots,” Soldotna coach Chris Hanson said. “I think we get more two-footers than anybody around and I think we missed more two-footers than anybody around.”
After locking up the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division crown and the top seed in the conference tournament with Friday night’s victory over Skyview, the Stars didn’t look like a team that hadn’t lost since Jan. 12 to Wasilla.
“We haven’t lost in a long time. You just can’t win forever,” Hanson said. “We talk every time we go on the road, we talk about how hard it is to win on the road in Alaska.
“You have to play 32 minutes hard,” he added. “I thought we played for four minutes hard. And you can’t beat a good team if you play for only four minutes.”
Soldotna girls 50, Kenai 39
The Kardinals may have lost the game, but they collected some serious motivation in the process.
Following a 63-32 setback to the third-ranked Stars a month ago, an injury-depleted Kenai squad, led by Demaris Craig’s 12 points, hung with visiting Soldotna the entire way on Saturday in falling by only 11.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity on our team this year and I know our record doesn’t speak towards it, but we have come a long way as a team and people have stepped up,” Kardinals’ coach Ken Felchle said. “We just didn’t play to just stay in the ballgame. That’s what I told my kids. I was very proud of every one of them. It was just a complete team effort.”
Junior Paige Blackburn scored a game-high 15 points, senior Christa Kennedy added 10 and sophomore April Heffner came off the bench for 10 for the Stars (19-4), who haven’t lost since a Jan. 27 setback at Colony.
“We were pretty tough at times there. We didn’t play as hard as we normally would like to, but hard enough,” SoHi coach Mark Tuter said. “They’re competitive. You have to take them pretty seriously or they can beat you, especially on their home court.”
Owning a 24-15 lead at the break, Blackburn netted four straight before Heffner sank back-to-back buckets of her own for a 34-22 lead.
“That was her best game of the year,” Tuter said of Heffner. “It came at the right time when we really needed her to come through.”
Kenai didn’t quit, though, climbing within eight when Lacie Wortham recorded a put-back with 2:39 to play in the game. But senior Mikala Smith put the game away when she stole the ball at half court and sailed in for an easy layup and a 10-point edge.
“They’re just a very good team and they’re well-coached and they’re deep and they’ve got good guards and they’ve got good posts,” Felchle said. “We put together a lot better effort than what we have.”
Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew. email@example.com.
KARDINALS 62, STARS 51
Soldotna 10 10 15 16 51
Kenai 10 20 12 20 62
SOLDOTNA (51) Bauder 0 0-1 1, Blossom 2 0-0 4, Grubb 0 0-0 0, Carver 5 4-6 15, Besse 7 0-1 14, Syverson 0 0-0 0, Kohler 1 1-2 4, Andrus 1 2-2 4, Seggerman 4 1-1 9. Totals 20 8-13 51.
KENAI (62) Saltzgiver 9 1-2 23, Toombs 2 8-13 12, Libert 2 0-0 4, Beeson 1 0-0 2, Ellis 2 1-4 5, Gustkey 1 0-0 3, Byrd 4 4-5 13. Totals 21 14-24 62.
3-point goals Soldotna 2 (Carver 1, Kohler 1), Kenai 6 (Saltzgiver 4, Gustkey 1, Byrd 1). Total fouls Soldotna 16, Kenai 15. Fouled out none.
STARS 50, KARDINALS 39
Soldotna 12 12 15 11 50
Kenai 6 9 11 13 39
SOLDOTNA (50) Smith 2 3-4 8, Heffner 5 0-5 10, Jes. Stenga 0 0-0 0, Kennedy 4 1-3 10, Donaldson 1 0-0 2, Barker 0 0-0 0, Duffy 1 3-5 5, Blackburn 7 1-2 15. Totals 19 8-19 50.
KENAI (39) Coupchiak 1 0-0 2, Delaney 0 2-2 2, Foley 4 0-0 8, Moore 0 4-6 4, Mills 0 1-2 1, Wortham 1 0-0 2, Craig 4 3-5 12, Steward 2 4-4 8. Totals 12 13-17 39.
3-point goals Soldotna 2 (Smith 1, Kennedy 1), Kenai 1 (Craig 1). Total fouls Soldotna 16, Kenai 16. Fouled out Barker.
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