The Soldotna and Skyview girls basketball teams met for their last regular season game at Skyview Saturday night. The Stars prevailed in the rivals' matchup, taking home a 52-30 victory.
Soldotna improved to 7-14 overall and 3-7 in Region III play. The Panthers fell to 2-20 overall, 0-10 regionally.
"It was a good way to end the season," said Soldotna guard Erin Wolfe, who got three points.
It was nearly two minutes into the game before SoHi's Hillary Zobeck broke the 0-0 tie.
For the rest of the game the Stars would trail only once, and then by only a single point.
The Panthers stayed close in the first half, keeping the score close until halfway through the second quarter.
SoHi broke the game open in the second half, though, using their superior size to reach and shoot around Skyview's defenders.
Panther coach Joe Trujillo said, "The third quarter, they started scoring with two of their towers."
Star sisters Rachel and Gretta Besse -- each more than 6 feet tall -- posted all of Soldotna's 11 points in the third frame. Skyview was only able to muster three points off an Amanda Bauer field goal and a free throw by Christina Colvin.
Trujillo said the Panthers' greatest struggle this season has been to play consistently throughout the entire game.
"It's usually one quarter or a half we falter," he said.
Junior Amanda Bauer agreed.
"Our defense in that quarter stopped us a lot," said the Panthers' leading scorer.
The Panthers tightened up again for the fourth quarter, but had given too much to be able to battle back.
SoHi coach Rob Dimick said he is happy with the way the Stars offense has improved through the course of the season.
"I think we moved the ball well (against Skyview)," he said. "We looked down the floor better. We were a little more patient."
Dimick said a key difference between the beginning and end of the season is the number of passes the players make. He said his team takes its time setting up shots instead of forcing one they are not likely to sink.
Wolfe said the team has struggled offensively.
"Running the offense is a problem for us," she said. "We give the ball away a lot."
Even with several turnovers and a handful of bad passes, Soldotna kept the play in its end for most of the second half.
Gretta Besse, a junior, said the Stars were able to succeed through classic teamwork.
"We shared the ball really well," she said. "No one played selfishly."
Looking toward next weekend's Region III/4A tournament in Palmer, Besse said SoHi will have to be fight hard to get past higher seeded teams.
"I want (the team) to be more aggressive, more mature," she said. "It's going to be half the team's first region tournament. The first five minutes is going to be rough."
Even with their experience deficit, Besse said the Stars will represent themselves well.
"For being the youngest team in the region, I think we're the fightingest," she said.
Trujillo said this year has given the Panthers a chance to develop character.
"I think it has taught them through adversity. They still maintained focus," said the first-year head coach. "Losing 20 games, it's not easy to get fired up for practice; it's not easy to get fired up before a game.
"It's like a prize fighter getting knocked down 20 times and getting back up."
Trujillo said Skyview will enter the tournament as the lowest seed, but will be prepared to play.
"We're a team that can be on par with any team if we play defense and if we're not afraid," he said. "I know we face an uphill battle. (But) at this point in the season, we're starting a brand-new season.
"Every game we're going to play from here on is going to be a big game."
Bauer said she is looking forward to the tournament as a proving ground for Skyview.
"I want to see our team click. I don't want to see everybody discount our team and look past us," she said. "If they do, I think we're going to beat them."
At halftime of the boys game, Skyview was leading the Stars 21-19.
Dan Davis led the Panthers and the game with 10 points after 16 minutes of play. Shaun Williams paced Soldotna with six points.
Complete results were not available as the Clarion went to press.
STARS 52, PANTHERS 30
Soldotna 10 15 11 16 -- 52
Skyview 10 7 3 10 -- 30
SOLDOTNA (52) -- Wolfe 0 3-4 3, Sennette 1 0-1 2, Jensen 1 0-0 2, Gensel 1 0-0 2, Kerrone 1 0-0 2, G. Besse 3 0-0 6, Penner 0 0-0 0, Carpenter 0 2-2 2, Spady 0 0-0 0, Becker 0 0-0 0, Dittrick 0 0-2 0, Syverson 0 0-0 0, Zobeck 2 0-3 4, Breakfield 4 0-0 8, R. Besse 9 3-6 21. Totals -- 22 8-18 52.
SKYVIEW (30) -- Hollers 0 1-3 1, Fowler 0 0-1 0, St. Clair 2 0-0 4, Sa. Carlon 2 0-1 5, Thurmond 1 0-0 2, Sh. Carlon 0 0-0 0, Edwards 1 1-2 3, Bauer 4 0-0 8, Verba 0 0-0 0, Truesdell 0 0-0 0, Colvin 1 2-4 4, Aldridge 0 0-0 0, C. Kier 0 0-0 0, K. Kier 1 1-1 3. Totals -- 12 5-12 30.
3-point goals -- Sa. Carlon. Total fouls -- Soldotna 18, Skyview 18. Fouled out -- none.
BYLINE1:By JEFF HELMINIAK
If, as the saying holds, offense wins games but defense wins championships, both the Nikiski and Kenai girls have an invaluable weapon as they head into their respective region tournaments next week.
In a matchup of the two Kenai Peninsula Class 3-4A girls teams ranked in the latest prep poll, the visiting Bulldogs survived a furious Kardinals rally for a 38-35 victory Saturday in nonconference play.
In the boys game, Kenai earned the split with a 68-53 victory.
"That's about as good of defense as you're going to see in a girls basketball game," Nikiski coach Ward Romans said after his team ended the regular season at 18-4 overall. "We played outstanding defense, and we haven't faced anything like their man defensive pressure all year."
Nikiski's biggest defensive stop came on Kenai's last possession. The Kardinals (18-4), who had been behind by as much as 10 in the fourth quarter, were trailing 38-35 with 22.9 seconds left.
Kenai coach Jim Beeson called a play to send senior Cory Hershberger, who already had 12 points in the quarter and seconds ago had nailed a trey from 2 feet beyond the arc to make the score 36-35, off a double screen. Kenai also would have Karli Knudsen at the top of the key for a 3-point attempt.
Hershberger was open coming off the screens, but the pass to her was tipped. Hershberger recovered the ball, but the timing of the play was off. All Hershberger could manage was an awkward 3-point shot at the buzzer.
"I was supposed to be a decoy," Hershberger said. "They were passing it to Karli at the top of the key. Things just kind of broke down."
It was a fitting end to the game, because the defense of both teams spent the afternoon breaking down the offense of the other team.
For Nikiski, the trick was to find a way past the full-court pressure of Kenai's group of ball-hawk guards, including Jessi Reilly, Kristi Knudsen and Jamie Montgomery, and get the ball to a frontcourt led junior Laura Berdahl.
"They were really quick," said Nikiski sophomore point guard Sally Glaze of Kenai's backcourt. "They were the quickest team we've seen this year."
However, Berdahl, who paced all scorers with 20 points, was more than happy with the way Glaze and the backcourt handled the pressure.
"I think our point guards and wings did a pretty good job of getting it down in the post," said Berdahl, who also dominated the boards Saturday. "If we play together like we did today, I don't think anybody can stop us."
The Bulldogs also used the team concept to play tough defense, holding Hershberger to just four points until the fourth quarter and allowing just four Kardinals to score.
"She's a really good shooter," said Glaze, who guarded Hershberger. "Whenever I would get screened, we'd just switch on her.
"We played good defense as a team."
Hershberger got on track to lead the Kardinals back in the fourth. After Berdahl hit a jumper to make it 30-20 with 6:21 left in the game, Hershberger scored five points in a 7-0 Kenai spurt that cut the gap to 30-27 with 4:33 left.
However, Nikiski, getting two big buckets from Tiffany Cason and a jumper from April Lofstedt, answered with a 6-2 run to move the lead back to 36-29 with 2:30 left.
"This was a big game because our young kids answered a run late in the game from an experienced, senior team," Romans said of Kenai, which said goodbye to seniors Hershberger, Kristi Knudsen, Stephanie Arbelovsky, Jennifer Stewart, Wendi Polak and Randi Canady on senior day.
"It wasn't just the players always in the headlines like Sally and Laura. It was people like April Lofstedt, Maggie Kendall and Tiffany Cason."
Kenai managed a 6-0 run to make the score 36-35 with 25 seconds left, but Glaze hit a pair of free throws to force Kenai to look for a tying 3-pointer.
"I can't fault our effort, especially on defense," Beeson said. "Our shots just weren't going in."
Kenai boys 68, Nikiski 53
This may have been just the feel-good victory the Kardinals, who have lost close games all season, needed to spark a run in the region tournament.
Seniors Willie Castillo, Jason Kornfield, Sean Nuccio, Dustin Jung, Joel Reemtsma and Josh Overturf all scored in their last game at Kenai Central.
"This was important because we've been losing close games all season," said Kenai junior Kyle Oldring, who had 16 points. "I think this is going to spark us for regions."
Kenai (5-16) grabbed a 24-13 lead after the first quarter, but Nikiski came back to cut Kenai's lead to 36-34 at halftime.
"There was a 15- to 16-minute stretch where the guys showed what they can do when they're out there playing as a team," Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad said after his team ended its regular season at 7-15. "The rest of the time, they saw what happens when they're out there as five individuals."
The Kardinals opened the game up with a 20-4 run in the last part of the third quarter and early part of the fourth quarter.
Oldring netted six points to spark the spurt while Reemtsma, who led all scorers with 21 points, had four points during the run, which gave Kenai a 60-44 lead with 6:45 left in the game.
"We've been playing our guts out all year," Oldring said. "People started out saying we weren't going to be that good, but I've heard people say we could be a dangerous team in the region tournament."
Castillo added 10 points for the Kardinals, while Jeremy Kouf had 18 points and Jamie Queen had 13 points for Nikiski.
Kornstad also liked what he saw out of Josh Reilly.
"When he was in the play, something good usually happened," Kornstad said. "It's amazing how guys that give 100 percent have good things happen to them."
BULLDOGS GIRLS 38, KARDINALS 35
Nikiski 6 10 10 12 --38
Kenai 4 9 7 15 --35
NIKISKI (38) -- Weaver 0 0-0 0, Lofstedt 1 0-1 2, Kendall 1 0-0 2, Jo. Carr 0 0-0 0, Glaze 4 2-2 10, Berdahl 10 0-1 20, T. Cason 2 0-0 4, Je. Carr 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 18 2-5 38.
KENAI (35) -- Kr. Knudsen 0 0-0 0, Ka. Knudsen 0 0-0 0, Reilly 4 1-2 10, Montgomery 1 0-0 2, Hershberger 7 1-2 16, Arbelovsky 0 0-0 0, Stewart 0 0-0 0, Polak 0 0-0 0, Shinn 3 1-1 7, Canady 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 15 3-5 35.
3-point goals -- Reilly, Hershberger. Total fouls -- Nikiski 11, Kenai 15. Fouled out -- none.
KARDINALS BOYS 68, BULLDOGS 53
Nikiski 13 21 10 9 --53
Kenai 24 12 23 10 --68
NIKISKI (53) -- Queen 4 3-4 13, Roofe 0 0-0 0, Kouf 8 0-0 18, Reilly 4 2-4 10, Holloway 2 4-6 8, Carlson 1 0-0 2, Bowlin 0 0-0 0, Heath 1 0-0 2. Totals -- 20 9-14 53.
KENAI (68) -- Pault 0 0-0 0, Castillo 5 0-2 10, Kornfield 0 1-3 1, Nuccio 1 1-2 4, Webster 4 0-0 8, Oldring 6 1-2 16, Jung 2 0-0 4, Reemtsma 9 2-3 21, Burck 0 0-0 0, Overturf 2 0-0 4, Boyd 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 28 5-12 68.
3-point goals -- Oldring 3, Queen 2, Kouf 2, Reemtsma, Nuccio. Total fouls -- Nikiski 18, Kenai 18. Fouled out -- Queen, Holloway.
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