The Cook Inlet Academy girls basketball team defeated conference powerhouse Ninilchik 33-31 on Friday night at Kenai Central High School for the Eagles' first Peninsula Conference championship since 1988.
And CIA didn't even need a point from four-year starter and main offensive cog Amie Smithwick to do it.
"This was a great team victory," said CIA coach Rustin Hitchcock, who won the school's third conference title in his first year as coach. "We went nine deep tonight and everybody contributed something important."
The Eagles, who earn their fourth straight trip to the state tournament, had lost to the Wolverines in the last two conference championship games. CIA put itself in great position to change that trend by taking an 18-12 lead after the first half.
Facing a full-court, trapping CIA defense, Ninilchik was just 4-of-20 from the floor with 16 turnovers in the first 16 minutes.
"We didn't start the game very well," said Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun, whose team came back to earn a state berth on Saturday. "My team played with heart for every second, though, and I'm proud of them."
Smithwick, the lone senior on the team, and Tiffany Smith created a lot of the turnovers for the Eagles, but each also ended the half with three fouls. In the third quarter, Smithwick picked up her fourth foul with 3:22 left and the Eagles holding a 22-16 lead.
Ninilchik senior Lindsey Rohr quickly capitalized, scoring seven straight points to give Ninilchik its first lead of the game at 23-22 with 52 seconds left in the third. Megan Bauder stopped the Ninilchik run with a free throw to tie the game at 23 heading into the final quarter.
"Rohr has the heart of a lion. I've said it before. She plays hard every time she goes out there," Van Saun said of Rohr, who led all scorers with 19 points.
Smithwick started the fourth quarter on the bench, but the Eagles did not back down. Keely Powers hit a 3-pointer just 20 seconds into the final frame to give CIA a lead it would not relinquish.
"It was huge," Smithwick said of Powers' trey. "Keely has a really great 3-point shot. It was such a clutch time for us."
Tiana McGahan, who led CIA with 11 points, then hit a jumper to give the Eagles a 28-23 lead. Smith fouled out with four minutes to play, but Smithwick came in to replace her with the Eagles holding a five-point lead.
"It was hard sitting out," said Smithwick, whose mother, Jenny, was on the 1988 conference title team. "It wasn't hard sitting out because I don't have confidence in my team. I have so much confidence in my team.
"It was hard sitting out because I wanted to be out there playing."
McGahan hit a rebound layup to give Cook Inlet a 32-25 lead with 2:07 remaining, but Ninilchik has not won 15 of the last 19 league titles by going quietly into the night. With just under a minute to play, Rohr nailed a 3-pointer for a 32-28 game, then Stevie Klein cut the gap to three with a free throw.
After Megan Bauder hit a free throw for Cook Inlet, Lindsay Schnabl drained a trey to cut the gap to 33-31 with 14 seconds left. Rohr immediately fouled Bauder to foul out of the game. Bauder missed the front end of the bonus to leave an opening for Ninilchik, but not having the ballhandling of Rohr in the game hurt when the Wolverines turned the ball over with five seconds left.
"We'd lost to them in double overtime at their place this year," Hitchcock said. "I was worried because it was starting to have that feel."
After a timeout, the Eagles got the ball into Smithwick and she dribbled out the clock.
"We grew a lot closer as a team," Smithwick said. "I also learned something about leadership. When I was out of the game, I was still able to stay in the game by encouraging freshman point guard Megan Bauder. She's awesome."
Hitchcock, whose team made the game a lot more interesting by going 8-of-24 from the foul line, singled out Smith, McGahan, Bauder and Arneson for making the victory possible, even without a point from Smithwick.
Ninilchik girls 40, Seldovia 36
The Wolverines topped the Sea Otters in the second-place game to keep alive a string of state appearances dating back to 1992. Seldovia was looking for its first state berth since 2002.
After leading by as much as 10 in the second half, the Sea Otters took a 31-24 lead into the final quarter.
Both Seldovia coach Jeff Swick and Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun agreed that two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter by Lindsey Rohr, who led Ninilchik with 16 points, turned the game around.
"Lindsey Rohr led the charge," Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun said. "Brittani Motoyama stepped up, and so did Steve Klein."
Said Swick: "We had the momentum the whole game and those shots shifted it away from us. We worked hard to beat Bristol Bay earlier in the day. I think we were a little tired mentally and physically. We just had a few blown coverages."
Van Saun also said he switched to a man-on-man defense with five minutes left to speed up the game. A Motoyama three-point play and a Rohr jumper tied the game at 36 with two minutes left. With 1:23 left, Motoyama hit two free throws to give Ninilchik its first lead of the game.
Sarah Geagel, who had 17 points, created a turnover with 27 seconds left, but she missed her bid for the tie. Rohr hit a free throw with 10 seconds left for a 39-36 game, but Seldovia point guard Courtney Collier had fouled out, and Seldovia was caught traveling. Motoyama clinched the win with a free throw.
Van Saun said it's hard to avoid the pressure of the string of state appearances.
"The girls hear about it all the time, and that's a lot of pressure to have on a team with only two returning players," Van Saun said.
Swick said it was nice to see Geagel get on track after struggling with her shot earlier in the tournament. The coach also said it is tough to see Collier's career end.
"She led us and kept us in line all season, especially this game," Swick said.
Both coaches said it is too bad the league can't send three to state.
"Seldovia really played a good game," Van Saun said. "All top three teams could be competitive at state this year."
Seldovia girls 37, Nikolaevsk 20
The Sea Otters received 10 points apiece from Mariah Turner and Sarah O'Leary to cruise past the Warriors on Friday in the second-place quarterfinals. Nianiella Dorvall had eight points to pace Nikolaevsk.
Eagles 33, Wolverines 31
Ninilchik 3 9 11 8 --31
CIA 9 9 5 10 --33
NINILCHIK (31) -- Motoyama 1 1-2 3, Klein 0 1-3 1, Schnabl 2 3-4 8, Smith 0 0-0 0, Rohr 8 0-1 19, Ehlers 0 0-1 0. Totals -- 11 5-11 31.
COOK INLET ACADEMY (33) -- Smith 3 2-3 8, McGahan 4 3-4 11, L. Bauder 0 0-0 0, M. Bauder 2 3-8 7, Arneson 0 0-6 0, Smithwick 0 0-2 0, Powers 1 0-0 3, Brush 1 0-0 2, Leaf 1 0-1 2. Totals 12 8-24 33.
3-point goals -- Ninilchik 4 (Rohr 3, Schnabl 1), CIA 1 (Powers 1). Team fouls -- Ninilchik 17, CIA 15. Fouled out -- Rohr, Smith.
Sea Otters 37, Nikolaevsk 20
Seldovia 17 10 10 0 --37
Nikolaevsk 3 4 4 9 --20
SELDOVIA (37) -- Collier 1 0-0 3, Turner 1 0-0 2, Geagel 3 0-1 6, Turner 4 2-2 10, Gruber 0 0-0 0, Hecks 1 0-0 2, O'Leary 4 2-6 10, Suydam 2 0-0 4. Totals -- 16 4-9 37.
NIKOLAEVSK (20) -- Kalugin 1 5-12 7, Payne 0 3-6 3, Holub 1 0-0 2, P. Dorvall 0 0-0 0, N. Dorvall 4 0-0 8, K. Kojin 0 0-0 0, N. Kojin 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 6 8-18 20.
3-point goals -- Seldovia 1 (Collier 1). Team fouls -- Seldovia 12, Nikolaevsk 12. Fouled out -- none.
Wolverines 40, Sea Otters 36
Seldovia 9 12 10 5 --36
Ninilchik 7 8 9 16 --40
SELDOVIA (36) -- Geagel 7 3-5 17, Collier 1 2-4 5, M. Turner 0 0-0 0, Gruber 0 0-0 0, Hecks 3 0-0 6, O'Leary 4 0-0 8. Totals -- 15 5-9 36.
NINILCHIK (40) -- Motoyama 1 5-7 7, Klein 3 0-1 6, Schnabl 2 1-2 5, Rohr 6 1-2 16, E. Ehlers 0 0-0 0, Smith 3 0-0 6. Totals -- 15 7-12 40.
3-point goals -- Seldovia 1 (Collier 1), Ninilchik 3 (Rohr 3). Team fouls -- Seldovia 15, Ninilchik 13. Fouled out -- Collier.
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