The host Soldotna girls basketball team used desire to notch a 40-33 victory over Region III/4A rival Kenai Friday.
The Kardinals came back to earn a split in the boys game with a 66-54 win over the Stars.
"We really wanted to win this game," said Soldotna junior Jennifer Senette, who finished with 10 points. "I think what made the difference in the end is we wanted it more than they did."
Kenai Central senior Jamie Montgomery may have been on the other side of the verdict, but she saw things the same as Senette.
"They just wanted it more than we did," Montgomery said after her team fell to 7-2 in the region and 17-4 overall. "We didn't make smart enough decisions with the ball to win the game at the end."
After a sideline jumper by Karli Knudsen cut Soldotna's lead to 34-33 with 1:12 left in the game, Senette drained a pair of foul shots with 1:11 left to regain a three-point cushion.
After Kenai failed to score, Soldotna's Erin Wolfe launched an errant 3-pointer with 33 seconds left. Kenai got the rebound, but Wolfe immediately got a steal and went in for an uncontested, back-breaking layup with 28 seconds left.
After Kenai missed a few more shots, Hillary Zobeck iced the game with a layup with 5 seconds left.
"It's always nice to beat Kenai because they're such a quality team," Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said after his team improved to 5-4 in the region and 14-7 overall. "Coach (Jim) Beeson is a great coach, and I've admired their kids for a long time.
"This gives us some confidence heading into the region tournament, but we've felt all along that we're a pretty good team."
With the emotions of the rivalry running high, the game got off to a choppy start. Then, with 6:08 left in the first quarter, Kardinals star Erica Shinn went down with a knee injury after passing and pivoting near midcourt.
The severity of Shinn's knee injury was not known Friday night.
"We're on different teams, but we all know each other," Senette said. "I think for a while, we were all thinking about Erica. We hope she's doing OK."
In the first quarter, Kenai and Soldotna combined for 19 turnovers, 3 of 12 shooting and 10 points.
The game didn't begin in earnest for the Stars until 3:07 remained in the second quarter and they were trailing 15-5.
SoHi's Adam Kiffmeyer tries to get past Kenai's Marcus Webster Friday night at Soldotna.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Soldotna had 14 turnovers and was 2 of 14 from the field when Tuter called timeout. During the break, he told the team it needed to get the ball down to post player Rachel Besse, who, despite the absence of Shinn, had been quiet in the game up to that point.
"We were playing kind of tentative," Tuter said. "Our offense has a lot of options, and I guess it's nice they were trying to explore all those options.
"But, at times, basketball can be a simple game. We needed to get the ball down low."
Besse scored six points before the end of the half as Soldotna went on a 9-2 run to cut Kenai's lead to 17-14.
In the second half, the Stars continued to have success going to Besse. She finished with a game-high 18 points.
"She's just so tall, and with her arms she's gigantic," said Montgomery of the 6-foot-1 center. "For the most part, our posts did as good of a job as they could have on her."
But what really won the game for the Stars was their tough zone defense that held Kenai to just 33 points for the game.
Tuter said it was the best Soldotna had played on defense all year, and Senette agreed.
"We've definitely had our problems on defense before," Senette said. "Everybody was where they were supposed to be tonight on the rotations.
"That's why were were getting a lot of backside steals."
Of course, it helped that Kenai's firepower was reduced immensely in the game. The Kardinals came into the season with tremendous depth on the front line with Shinn, Erica Smith, Erin Smith and Anna Hall.
But by the late third quarter Saturday, Shinn and Erica Smith were out with knee injuries, Hall had tweaked a knee and had to sit down for a few minutes, and Erin Smith was on the bench with four fouls.
"All those things definitely add up, but we still have to stay in the game and stay motivated," Montgomery said.
Soldotna's bench erupts with cheers in the final seconds of Friday's game against Kenai.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Knudsen paced Kenai with 10 points.
Kenai boys 66, Soldotna 54
It's not that the region's top basketball teams haven't suffered mental letdowns against Soldotna before. Every team has a letdown now and again.
It's just that up to Friday night, Soldotna hadn't had the firepower to make those teams pay by getting back in the game.
But Friday, when Kenai would suffer a lull, the much-improved Stars would take advantage and climb back into the ballgame.
Kenai was 6-3 in the region and 14-7 after Friday's game, while SoHi was 1-8 in the region and 3-18 overall.
"They've come a long way this season," said Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits of the Stars. "Coach (Bill) Withrow has those kids playing a lot better.
"It can be tough sometimes, because that isn't showing up in wins and losses."
"We just installed a new offense and defense this year, and we're playing against teams that have been running their systems for two or three years," Withrow said. "It's going to take time.
"But these guys are continuing to show effort through frustration, and they're starting to get it."
The Kardinals jumped to a 20-7 lead Friday before letting up on the gas a bit.
"I think we got complacent for a while," Bartolowits said. "We quit executing on offense and started making mistakes on defense."
The Stars took advantage, cutting the gap to 30-28 with 5:37 left in the third quarter when Trevor Kennedy knocked down a jumper.
However, once Soldotna's Ben Histand hit a layup to trim Kenai's lead to 32-30 with 5:03 left in the third, Kenai responded with a 17-4 run before the end of the quarter.
"Again, we have to get in the weight room this off-season," Withrow said. "You could see Kenai had a little more bulk tonight, and it made a difference and wore us down in the third quarter a little bit.
"Not a lot, but a little bit. And a little bit is all a team like Kenai needs."
Kenai senior Marcus Webster had 23 points to lead all scorers, while Caleb Schooley added 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Bartolowits also commended Ian Foley for his vastly improved defense and J.D. Pault for doing whatever nearly invisible little things needed to be done.
For Soldotna, senior Ben Histand had 16 points while fellow senior Adam Kiffmeyer contributed 14. The Stars also said goodbye to co-captain Ben Richman at the final home game of his prep hoops career.
STARS 40, KARDINALS 33
Kenai 7 10 8 8 --33
Soldotna 3 11 11 15 --40
KENAI (33) -- Knudsen 3 2-2 10, Baldwin 0 2-2 2, Montgomery 1 6-6 8, Goggia 0 0-0 0, Edwards 1 0-2 2, McLeod 1 0-0 2, Hall 0 0-0 0, Shinn 0 0-0 0, Smith 3 3-6 9. Totals -- 9 13-18 33.
SOLDOTNA (40) -- Senette 2 4-4 10, Wolfe 1 0-0 2, Christensen 0 0-0 0, Besse 7 4-7 18, S. Penner 1 0-0 2, Syverson 0 0-0 0, Tabor 0 0-0 0, Zobeck 3 2-2 8, Breakfield 0 0-1 0. Totals -- 14 10-14 40.
3-point goals -- Kenai 2 (Knudsen 2); Soldotna 2 (Senette 2). Total fouls -- Kenai 17, Soldotna 14. Fouled out -- none.
KARDINALS 66, STARS 54
Kenai 20 10 19 17 --66
Soldotna 10 14 10 20 --54
KENAI (66) -- Pault 2 2-3 6, Alexander 1 0-0 2, Foley 2 2-3 8, Webster 9 2-2 23, Steiner 1 1-2 4, Schooley 6 0-0 12, Barnes 2 0-0 4, Dunn 2 3-4 7, Myers 0 0-1 0. Totals -- 25 10-15 66.
SOLDOTNA (54) -- Turnbull 2 1-2 6, Nettles 0 0-0 0, Histand 6 2-4 16, Kennedy 3 2-2 8, Richman 1 0-0 2, Sizemore 0 0-0 0, Kiffmeyer 3 8-11 14, Michal 4 0-0 8, Simpson 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 19 13-19 54.
3-point goals -- Kenai 6 (Webster 3, Foley 2, Steiner 1); Soldotna 3 (Histand 2, Turnbull 1). Total fouls -- Kenai 19, Soldotna 15. Fouled out -- Simpson.
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