PALMER The Palmer girls punched their ticket to the state basketball tournament with a thrilling 53-50 overtime win over the Soldotna Stars to take third place in the Northern Lights Conference tournament.
The Moose got a huge game from senior Ashley Swetzof, who helped set the tone early with nine first-quarter points and three blocks. She finished with a team-high 14 points and five blocks.
"It was very physically draining, playing two games on the same day, but that's what we had to do to get to state," Swetzof said. "We did it last year, so why not do it again this year?"
After a disappointing loss to Valley rival Wasilla on Friday, the Moose had to win two games Saturday to qualify for the state tournament. Coach Paul Reid said his team had experience on its side Saturday.
"Three of the last four years, this is the road we've taken to the state tournament coming back through the bracket and having to win twice on Saturday," Reid said. "We have a lot of experience in this situation."
Thanks to a Kelsey Campbell 3-pointer with just 0.6 seconds left on the first-half clock, the Moose took a 28-24 halftime lead despite shooting 1-of-7 from the free-throw line. The Moose maintained the lead through three quarters despite the efforts of Soldotna's Paige Blackburn, who put up seven points in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Stars came shooting back. They went on a 10-0 run to erase the Palmer lead and take a three-point advantage. Reid said the fourth quarter was eerily similar to the first matchup between Palmer and Soldotna in January.
"Right down to the time left on the clock, the plays, everything," Reid said. "We were up in that one and they came right back and took the game over from us. It was happening exactly the same way tonight (Saturday).
"During the second timeout we took during their big run, I asked the girls if they were having fun, and they looked at me like I was nuts. I told them that this is what basketball is all about these types of situations. Every game has peaks and valleys, and you have to learn how to capture that momentum and keep it on your side. I reminded them that we needed five girls playing together and believing in each other out on the court."
The Moose responded in a big way. Down three with little more than a minute left, Jaimi Cox stole an errant Soldotna pass and laid it in to pull the Moose to within one, 48-47.
"Coach wanted us to remain calm, and we did," Swetzof said.
Free-throw shooting haunted both teams in the final minute. Palmer senior Matti Cox missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have tied the game, but Soldotna's Shelly Barker couldn't ice the game from the line either, missing two shots with 32 seconds left.
On the final Barker free throw, Jaimi Cox grabbed the rebound and was fouled. She promptly hit the game-tying free-throw with 28 seconds left, setting up a wild and frantic finish.
Soldotna inbounded the ball and tried to get a shot off, but Swetzof came up with a huge block and maintained possession. She got the ball up the court quickly, and Geneva Ratcliff had three shots from the paint as the clock ticked down. With a lot of traffic in the lane and a mad scramble, the shots went wide and the game went to overtime.
"I told them you have a four-minute game now to decide who gets to go to state," Reid said.
Ratcliff earned redemption in the overtime, however. She scored Palmer's only field goal and converted two crucial free throws, scoring four of her eight points in the extra frame. Matti Cox hit a clutch free throw to ice the game and give Palmer the three-point victory and a trip to next weekend's state tourney.
The Moose were led by Swetzof's 14 points, but used a well-rounded approach for a second time on Saturday. Jaimi Cox, Matti Cox and Campbell all contributed nine points, while Ratcliff had eight.
In addition to Blackburn's 20, the Stars got nine points from Karen Senette and six from April Heffner.
Colony girls 60, Wasilla 49
A week after the Knights ended the Warriors' 100-game winning streak in the NLC, the Knights snapped Wasilla's string of seven NLC tourney titles. The Colony girls won their first conference tourney title since 2000.
The Knights led by as much as 18 in the game, but Wasilla had the lead down to three before Colony pulled away. Alex Coon had 22 points for Colony, while Kara Larson added 14. For Wasilla, Jenna Johnson had 17 points and Celeste Colegrove had 10 points.
Palmer boys 65, Wasilla 57
The Moose earned a state tournament berth by winning the third-place game. The Warriors lost the chance to defend their state crown.
Palmer went into the fourth quarter with a 39-34 lead. Both teams picked up the pace considerably in the final eight minutes, with Palmer scoring 26 points and Wasilla 23. Bryce Jacobson had 20 points to lead Palmer, while T.J. Fullmer had 15 and Justin Draughon added 10. For Wasilla, Tyler Johannes had 22 points while Adrese Lavern added 10.
Soldotna girls 47, Kenai 36
The Stars took control of the game in the second half to move to the third-place game and end Kenai's season.
The Kardinals had an 11-8 lead after the first quarter and had the game tied at 19 at the half. Soldotna got some breathing room by outscoring Kenai 14-7 in the third quarter.
Karen Duffy had 19 points for the Stars, while Karen Senette and Jessi Stenga had 11 points apiece. For Kenai Central, Kyla Steward had 12 points and Amanda Mills added 10 points.
Wasilla boys 72, Soldotna 64
The Warriors took out the frustration of losing to Kenai in the semifinals the night before and earned a spot in the third-place game.
Despite the loss late Friday, the defending state and conference champions were ready to go early Saturday, taking a 16-3 lead after the first quarter. The Stars would outscore the Warriors for the rest of the game, but not enough to avoid the end of their season.
Adrae Lavern had 26 for Wasilla to lead all scorers, while Tim Gray had 11 points and Tyler Johannes added 10. For the Stars, Larsen Kohler poured in 21 points, including four 3-pointers. Liam Andrus had 12 points, while Brad Blossom added 10 points.
Palmer boys 68, Kodiak 60
The Moose advanced to the third-place game behind an explosive second quarter.
The game was tied at 16 after one period, but Palmer outscored Kodiak 22-11 in the second period. Bryce Jacobson had 23 points for the Moose, while Jake Willis had 15 points and T.J. Fullmer added 10. For Kodiak, David Cratty had 21 points and David Diocares added 13.
Palmer girls 33, Kodiak 26
The Moose overcame a stingy defensive effort from the Bears to make the third-place game.
Palmer took a 12-4 lead after one period, but scored just 21 points the rest of the game. The Moose were able to hold the Bears to 15 points in the first three quarters. Matti Cox had eight points for Palmer, while Alysa Horn and Addie Jones had eight points for Kodiak.
Clarion staff contributed to this report.
WARRIORS 72, STARS 64
Soldotna 3 19 19 23 64
Wasilla 16 17 14 25 72
SOLDOTNA (64) Carver 0 0-0 0, Br. Blossom 3 2-2 10, Grubb 1 1-2 3, Bauder 2 0-0 5, Geller 3 3-4 9, Barkman 0 0-0 0, Kohler 7 3-5 21, Andrus 6 0-2 12, Shelton 0 4-4 4. Totals 22 13-19 64.
WASILLA (72) Gray 3 5-8 11, Kroom 2 2-2 6, Sliwa 2 0-0 4, Lavern 10 3-4 26, Johannes 4 1-2 10, Pfeifer 2 0-0 4, Green 4 0-0 9, Knowles 0 0-0 0, Green 1 0-0 2. Totals 38 11-16 72.
3-point goals Soldotna 7 (Kohler 4, Br. Blossom 2, Bauder 1); Wasilla 5 (Lavern 3, Johannes 1, Green 1). Team fouls Soldotna 20, Wasilla 18. Fouled out none.
STARS 47, KARDINALS 36
Kenai 11 8 7 10 36
Soldotna 8 11 14 14 47
KENAI CENTRAL (36) Ross 0 0-0 0, Delaney 0 0-0 0, Coupchiak 1 0-0 2, Flanagan 1 3-4 5, Gabriel 2 0-0 5, Mills 3 2-3 10, Kennedy 0 0-0 0, Wortham 0 0-0 0, Graves 0 0-0 0, Beeson 1 0-0 2, Steward 6 0-3 12, Garcia 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 5-10 36.
SOLDOTNA (47) Senette 3 2-3 11, Sholin 0 0-0 0, Stenga 4 3-5 11, Jensen 0 0-0 0, Dykstra 1 0-0 2, Heffner 0 0-0 0, Satathite 0 0-0 0, Duke 0 0-0 0, Duffy 8 3-5 19, Barker 0 0-2 0, Blackburn 2 0-0 4. Totals 18 8-15 47.
3-point goals Kenai 3 (Mills 2, Gabriel 1); Soldotna 3 (Senette 3). Team fouls Kenai 15, Soldotna 12. Fouled out none.
MOOSE 53, STARS 50, OT
Soldotna 15 9 11 13 2 50
Palmer 15 13 11 9 5 53
SOLDOTNA (50) Senette 4 0-0 9, Stenga 1 2-3 4, Dykstra 0 0-0 0, Heffner 3 0-2 6, Hardy 0 2-2 2, Duffy 2 0-0 4, Barker 2 0-3 5, Blackburn 6 8-10 20. Totals 18 12-20 50.
PALMER (53) Swetzof 6 1-4 14, J. Cox 3 3-5 9, Campbell 2 4-4 9, M. Cox 4 1-6 9, Bolling 1 0-0 2, Tzou 1 0-4 2, Ratcliff 3 2-2 8. Totals 20 11-25 53.
3-point goals Soldotna 2 (Senette 1, Barker 1); Palmer 2 (Swetzof 1, Campbell 1). Team fouls Soldotna 19, Palmer 16. Fouled out none.
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