The Kenai girls played three quarters of solid basketball Friday night. It was the fourth that nearly cost them.
The Kards narrowly avoided disaster Friday at SoHi, holding off a furious Soldotna comeback to win a 36-35 Region III/4A game that saw the Stars outscore Kenai 15-4 over the final eight minutes.
With Kenai leading 32-20 going into the fourth, things looked under control for the Kards. But when Soldotna began playing a halfcourt trap, the game turned around in a hurry.
"That's the first time we've seen a halfcourt trap," Kenai head coach Jim Beeson said following the game. "(Soldotna) did what they had to do."
The defensive technique seemed to take Kenai out of its rhythm, and shots that were falling all game stopped finding the bottom of the net. Kenai's Laura Moore, who scored all of her game-high 13 points in the first three quarters, missed a number of short jumpers in the fourth that could have helped ice the game.
"We were just missing shots we made the rest of the game," Beeson said.
While Moore and the Kardinals were cooling off, Soldotna began to find its touch. Although the Stars hit just two field goals in the fourth, Soldotna was deadly from the free throw line, making 10 of 13 from the charity stripe in the quarter.
Soldotna was led by freshman Christa Kennedy, who dropped in seven of her team-high 10 points in the fourth. Kennedy and senior guard Brittany Howard combined for 10 points in the first seven minutes of the quarter as Soldotna ran off 11 straight points to cut the Kenai lead to 32-31 with 44 seconds to play.
Soldotna had a chance to go ahead at that point, but Moore forced Howard into a double dribble, forcing Soldotna to foul Kenai senior Breezy Saltzgiver with 37 seconds left on the clock.
Saltzgiver finally ended the Soldotna run, calmly sinking both free throws to push the lead back to three.
The game became a free-throw battle at that point, as Howard made two of her own to cut the lead back to one. Saltzgiver was then fouled, and made one of her next two tries from the line. Down two, the Stars again turned the ball over with 12 seconds left and had to quickly foul, sending Saltzgiver to the line with a chance to ice it.
She again made one of two, leaving the Stars down three with just seconds remaining. Howard's deep three-point attempt fell short, but Kennedy got the rebound and was fouled with just 1.6 seconds left. Although she made both attempts, Kenai was able to inbound the ball successfully and run out the final tick of the clock to win by one.
In the end, it was Saltzgiver's ability to make enough free throws to win that gave Kenai the edge.
"I was just thinking in my head that I needed to make them," the Kenai guard who finished with 10 points said after the game.
Saltzgiver said Soldotna's pressure defense was a bit unexpected.
"That's pretty much the only halfcourt trap we've seen this season," she said. "It was hard to see where to go with the ball."
Following the game, Soldotna head coach Mark Tuter gave his team credit for refusing to give up after the Kardinals built a big lead.
"They didn't quit, and just kept working hard," Tuter said.
Despite their inability to score late in the game, the Kardinals also refused to let the game slip away, and for Beeson, that's really all that matters.
"We didn't make shots, had some key turnovers and couldn't make free throws," he said of his team, which went just 7 of 14 from the free-throw line. "But the bottom line is we won."
Ninilchik's Mindy Dawson and Lauren Wolford secure the ball Friday.
Photo by Mark Harrison
KARDINALS 36, STARS 35
Soldotna 7 6 7 15 35
Kenai 8 14 10 4 36
SOLDOTNA (35) Smith 0 1-3 1, McCown 4 1-2 9, Kennedy 2 6-8 10, Stenga 0 0-0 0, Howard 2 4-4 9, Denna 1 0-2 2, Wilbanks 2 0-0 4. Totals 11 12-19 35.
KENAI (36) Saltzgiver 3 4-7 10, Keener 0 1-2 1, Foley 0 0-0 0, McGlasson 2 0-0 4, Steiner 1 0-2 2, Moore 6 0-1 13, Calderwood 2 2-2 6, Peterson 0 0-0 0, Navarre 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 7-14 36.
3-point goals Soldotna 1 (Howard); Kenai 1 (Moore). Total fouls Soldotna 16, Kenai 18. Fouled out Peterson.
Soldotna boys 47, Kenai 39
Soldotna junior guard Ryan Hall outscored the entire Kenai team in the third quarter Friday night, keying an 18-6 advantage in the quarter that helped Soldotna to its first season sweep of the Kardinals in six years.
Hall scored seven of his game-high 15 points in the third, as Soldotna went from trailing by one at the half to holding a comfortable 34-23 advantage.
"We knew we had to step up in the second half, and we did," Hall said following Soldotna's Region III/4A win.
Hall was one of four Soldotna guards who took over in the third. In addition to Hall's seven points, Dan Spindler and Kelly Seggerman each scored four and Anthony Stone had three.
Soldotna head coach Bill Withrow said the difference in the game was Soldotna's ability to focus on offense after halftime and work to get good looks at the basket against a Kenai team that came out in a zone defense.
"We came out and moved the ball much better in the second half," Withrow said.
For the first two quarters Friday, it appeared as if the game would go down to the wire. The Kardinals opened the game on a 7-0 run, but SoHi quickly battled back to tie the score at the end of the first.
In the second quarter, Kenai's Jordan Jenckes had the hot hand, dropping in six of his 10 points to help Kenai go into the locker room with a one-point lead.
In the second half, though, it was all Soldotna, as the Kardinals seemed hampered by the loss of senior swingman Nick Barnes, who missed Friday's game with the flu.
Jenckes was Kenai's best all-around player Friday, getting a double-double by grabbing 10 rebounds to go with his 10 points. But with Barnes out, Kenai had a hard time finding other scorers. Jenckes and Geoffery Gemmell each had 10 points to lead Kenai.
It wasn't just SoHi's guards doing damage Friday. Soldotna junior center Matt Hicks continued to show why he has the potential to become one of the region's top big men. Despite playing much of the second half with four fouls, Hicks managed to hold down the middle quite well, scoring eight points, grabbing nine boards and rejecting three Kardinals shots.
Following the game, Kenai head coach Rich Bartolowits said the loss of Barnes was tough, but not the reason the Kardinals fell Friday.
"That doesn't help, but (Soldotna) came out and played a very strong game," Bartolowits said.
With the loss, Kenai drops to third place in Region III's Southern Division, something Bartolowits said could be a blessing in disguise.
"It might be better because it keeps us out of (No. 1 seed) Palmer's bracket," he said.
STARS 47, KARDINALS 39
Soldotna 9 7 18 13 47
Kenai 9 8 6 16 39
SOLDOTNA (47) Turnbull 0 0-0 0, Spindler 4 1-2 9, Besse 0 0-0 0, Stone 1 4-5 7, Hall 6 3-6 15, Seggerman 3 1-4 7, Roberts 0 1-2 1, Hicks 4 0-0 8, Carver 0 0-0 0, Hepner 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 10-19 47.
KENAI (39) Hansen 0 0-0 0, C. Chappell 3 0-0 7, Craig 0 0-0 0, Jenckes 3 4-5 10, Gemmell 5 0-0 10, T. Chappell 1 0-0 3, Bennett 1 0-1 2, McLeod 3 0-0 7. Totals 16 4-6 39.
3-point goals Kenai 3 (C. Chappell, T. Chappell, McLeod); Soldotna 1 (Stone). Total fouls Soldotna 9, Kenai 14. Fouled out none.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.