Kenai, SoHi boys miss state tourney

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2007

It could have been the most enthralling basketball game in Kenai Peninsula history.

The fourth matchup of the season between Soldotna and Kenai loomed on Saturday’s horizon with a state tournament berth up for grabs.

There was only one catch, though.

After suffering heartbreaking defeats in the Friday’s Northern Lights semifinals, the bitter rivals needed victories on Saturday morning over teams they’d already defeated a total of three times this season for a date in the third-place contest.

Neither team held up their end of the bargain, however, as the top-ranked Stars fell to Kodiak, 73-55, and the second-seeded Kardinals lost to Palmer, 67-56.

“When you have a conference that’s as competitive as ours —you’re going against the 1,500-kid powerhouse schools that have dominated over the years — and to be in battles with them and to be competitive is a statement about our kids down here, both the Kenai program and the Soldotna program,” Soldotna coach Chris Hanson said. “To be competitive with those schools ... it’s a real testament to our kids and their ability to fight.”

For one reason or another, the dream date didn’t come to fruition.

Maybe it was the way Kenai fell to top-ranked Wasilla on Friday, owning a one-point edge after three quarters but coming out on the opposite end of a 13-0 run early in the fourth.

In Soldotna’s case, perhaps it was a lack of sleep after getting bounced by Colony, 71-65, in double-overtime at 11:30 p.m. Friday.

Or it could just be that parity reigns supreme in the Northern Lights Conference.

“In Region III, there’s no easy games you’re going to be playing,” Kenai coach Jim Beeson said Friday after his team lost to the Warriors, 60-51.

When Colony — who went 6-4 in the league during the regular season — knocked off SoHi, Hanson wasn’t shocked.

“I think there were four or five ball teams coming in here that could get to the championship,” he said. “I don’t think that I looked at it like an upset, like we were so much better than anybody else in our bracket that if anybody beat us to the championship it would be an upset.”

Colony coach Jeff Bowker may beg to differ after the Stars beat them by five earlier in the year.

“They’ve got some players who have signed to go to college. We don’t have any of those,” he said. “We knew we were going to have to play pretty good and get a tempo going, which I didn’t think we did in the first half but we did a little bit better in the second half. It was a terrific game.”

Despite recording two victories over Kodiak earlier this season, Hanson wasn’t surprised with the outcome of Saturday’s game, either.

“Maybe we didn’t have enough fuel in the tank,” he said. “I think Kodiak had a good gameplan. They played well and they hit shots when they needed to.

“I’ve always said it’s hard to beat somebody three times in a season,” Hanson added.

After falling behind by six in the second quarter before owning a four-point edge at halftime, Colony outhustled the Stars in the third, swarming them every time they touched the ball in forcing 10 turnovers in the period alone and 27 overall.

And after opening the game 4-of-5 from the field, SoHi’s Tony Besse didn’t shoot again until a turnaround jumper knotted the score at 46 with 2:18 to go in regulation.

“I think we had a good gameplan and I think we stuck to it,” Hanson said of working the ball inside more. “I don’t question myself on what we did or the guys on what they did or how they played.”

Playing with three fouls, Besse (21 points) still prevailed defensively, blocking Doug Gray’s last-second shot in sending the game to the first extra frame.

He then took all of Soldotna’s shots in the four-minute OT, going 2-of-3 from the field. When Brook Carver (14 points) missed a free throw with 2:20 to play, Besse was there, pulling down the board between two Colony defenders before putting in and drawing the foul.

But, once again, Gray answered by beating his man, driving the lane and tying the game at 56 with 1:15 to go.

“I think we create mismatch problems for them with our size and they create mismatch problems for us with their speed,” Hanson said.

SoHi jumped in front by two in the second overtime on a baseline jumper from senior Kelly Seggerman. But Jaron Murphy evened it back up with an acrobatic, spinning layup 25 seconds later and then a free throw by John Palmer gave the Knights a 63-62 advantage with 1:32 remaining. The Stars were then called for a crucial intentional foul with 39 seconds left.

Gray made both foul shots, later added two more and Cody Huggins also canned four in finishing off the thrilling victory.

“We have some deficiencies,” Bowker explained. “We don’t have big, tall kids. We don’t have muscle. We don’t have terrific shooters like Kenai does.

“But we have guys who will play hard and so we have to play to that,” he added. “We’ve just put in a style that allows us to play hard and let’s guys do what they do.”

Kenai’s end to the season was far less dramatic, but nearly as gut-wrenching.

The Kardinals fell behind by five at halftime after suffering through a 3:47 dry spell in the second but five straight points from junior Nate Saltzgiver (18 points) and a three-point play from senior Casey Ellis gave them a 34-33 lead, their first since they owned a 12-11 edge in the first quarter.

But that’s the way it stayed entering the fourth quarter as both teams went scoreless over the final 4:46 of the third.

“We had a lot of chances, especially in the third quarter, when it was tied and we had a lot of easy offensive opportunities and the ball didn’t go in,” Beeson said.

But the co-No. 1 team in the state can’t be contained forever.

After regaining a two-point lead, Wasilla’s Jeremiah Collins picked off a Saltzgiver pass and missed the lay-in, but senior Logan Williams was trailing for the two-handed follow-up dunk.

Another bucket by Williams extended the gap to 42-36 and Collins then stole the ball again and cruised in for the layup and foul, punctuating an 11-0 run by the Warriors.

“The difference is the effort that they put on the floor,” Beeson said. “He got the ball because he was going hard. We made some lazy passes and he got the ball. It was just pure effort on his part getting the basketball.

“They stepped up their pressure and we panicked a little bit,” he added. “That three-minute stretch there was really the only time during the game that we really panicked. The rest of the time we were fairly composed.”

Wasilla’s impeccable foul shooting (11-of-12) down the stretch— including six points from senior guard Jesse Bean who was only 2-for-10 from the field — offset remarkable back-to-back 3-pointers by Saltzgiver in the final two minutes.

“I think our defense finally came through in the fourth quarter when we started pressuring more and we got back to our fundamental defense,” Warriors’ coach Jason Marvel said.

As was the case in the teams’ first meeting when Wasilla won by 12, the Warriors’ height advantage was too much for an undersized Kenai squad to handle with Dexter Pearce recording 13 rebounds and Bean pulling down nine.

“They’re well-coached, they execute, you don’t see them make a lot of mistakes, they don’t panic and the fact that we were in the basketball game is a testament to our kids because when you look at them sizewise and everything else, it was a terrible matchup for us,” Beeson said. “But we hung in there and just kind of ran out of gas there in the fourth quarter.”

On Saturday, the Kardinals led the the fourth-seeded Moose by seven before Palmer outscored them by 10 in the second and five in third.

Five 3-pointers and 23 points by TJ Fullmer and 20 points from Nate Svedin overcame a team-high 20 points from Kenai’s Cory Toombs and 14 from Daniel Gustkey as the Moose advanced to the third-place game, where they edged Kodiak by seven Saturday afternoon.

Matthew Carroll can be reached at

Saturday boys


Palmer 5 23 20 19 —67

Kenai 12 13 15 16 —56

PALMER (67) — Hillemeier 0 0-0 0, Fullmer 6 6-6 23, Svedin 9 2-4 20, Fuller 3 2-4 8, Cottrell 0 0-0 0, McPheters 0 0-0 0, Fiscus 4 6-8 14, Bergeron 1 0-0 2. Totals — 23 16-22 67.

KENAI (56) — Saltzgiver 2 2-2 8, Toombs 5 7-7 20, Beeson 1 1-2 3, Gustkey 5 2-3 14, Byrd 4 2-3 11, Chimphalee, 0 0-0 0. Totals — 16 3-13 33.

3-point goals — Palmer 5 (Fullmer 5), Kenai 8 (Toombs 3, Saltzgiver 2, Gustkey 2, Byrd 1). Total fouls — Palmer 16, Kenai 21. Fouled out — none.


Kodiak 14 16 19 24 —73

Soldotna 13 13 14 15 —55

KODIAK (73) — Catt 7 4-7 19, Cratty 3 1-2 9, Alegado 4 3-6 13, Norton 1 0-0 3, Thomas 4 3-4 11, Merick 0 0-0 0, Sweeney 0 0-0 0, Bryant 1 0-1 2, Strelnieks 7 2-2 16. Totals — 27 13-22 73.

SOLDOTNA (55) — bauder 1 0-0 2, Blossom 7 1-1 17, Grubb 0 0-0 0, Carver 0 2-3 2, Besse 3 1-2 7, Syverson 0 2-2 2, Kohler 3 0-0 8, Andrus 0 2-2 2, Seggerman 2 4-8 10, Shelton 1 3-4 5. Totals — 15 15-22 55.

3-point goals — Kodiak 6 (Cratty 2, Alegado 2, Catt 1, Norton 1), Soldotna 4 (Blossom 2, Kohler 2). Total fouls — Kodiak 17, Soldotna 22. Fouled out — none.

Friday boys


Colony 10 12 14 14 7 13 —71

Soldotna 12 14 6 19 7 7 —65

COLONY (71) — Huggins 1 4-4 6, Murphy 6 3-5 15, Palmer 2 3-4 7, Scott 0 0-0 0, Niver 2 2-2 6, Gray 8 8-9 28, Coffman 3 0-0 6, Moseley 1 1-2 3. Totals — 23 21-26 71.

SOLDOTNA (65) — Blossom 3 2-2 10, Grubb 1 0-0 2, Carver 5 3-4 14, Besse 9 2-5 21, Kohler 0 0-0 0, Andrus 3 0-0 6, Roberts 2 0-0 4, Seggerman 1 2-2 4, Shelton 2 0-1 4. Totals — 26 9-14 65.

3-point goals — Colony 4 (Gray 4), Soldotna 4 (Blossom 2, Carver 1, Besse 1). Total fouls — Colony 16, Soldotna 21. Fouled out — Murphy, Carver.


Kenai 14 10 10 17 —51

Wasilla 14 15 4 27 —60

KENAI (51) — Saltzgiver 6 2-2 18, Toombs 3 2-2 9, Beeson 1 0-0 2, Ellis 1 1-1 3, Gustkey 3 0-0 8, Byrd 4 3-3 11. Totals — 18 8-8 51.

WASILLA (60) — Bean 2 6-6 10, Pearce 4 0-0 9, Johannes 0 3-5 3, Collins 3 2-3 10, Green 5 1-1 11, Stearman 3 0-0 6, Williams 5 1-4 11. Totals — 22 13-19 60.

3-point goals — Kenai 7 (Saltzgiver 4, Gustkey 2, Toombs 1), Wasilla 3 (Collins 2, Pearce 1). Total fouls — Kenai 19, Wasilla 15. Fouled out — Toombs, Pearce.

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