The Soldotna High School boys basketball team kept its bid for the top spot in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division alive with a 60-51 victory over visiting Skyview Friday night.
Meanwhile, the Skyview girls gave themselves a big boost of confidence heading into next week's conference tournament with a 33-30 win over the host Stars.
"It was a big win for us tonight. As far as (the conference standings), I'm not sure if it's a meaningless game, but it's teams like Soldotna, Homer and Colony that we're going to have to beat to have a shot at (going to the state tournament), so the game had a lot of meaning in that respect," said Skyview girls coach Wade Marcuson.
The Panthers found themselves down by five points after the first quarter, but cut the deficit to four points, 19-15, by halftime.
Skyview took its first lead of the game, 23-22, with 1:42 left in the third quarter when Laura Smith hit a jumper for two points.
The Stars answered with a 3-pointer by Shelly Barker, and Skyview's Christina Shadura hit both ends of a one-and-one to tie the score at 25 heading into the fourth quarter.
Nicole Van Ryzin got the Panthers going in the fourth quarter, opening the frame with a two-point basket, and Skyview led by five points, 30-25, after Cassie Dreifuerst hit one of two free throws after Soldotna fouled to stop the clock with 1:15 to play.
The dramatics didn't end there, though Soldotna's Kaylee Wilbanks hit a pair of free throws with 1:02 to play, and after trading turnovers, Barker drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 30 with 20 seconds to play.
Shelley Heffner was fouled bringing the ball up the court on the Panthers ensuing possession. Heffner hit her first free throw, and while she missed the second, Allison Fay was fouled as players scrambled after the loose ball. Fay hit both her free-throws for a three-point lead with seven seconds to play.
Soldotna lost the ball out of bounds on its next possession but got it right back when Mikala Smith intercepted Skyview's inbounds pass. Smith was fouled on the play, stopping the clock with one second left. Smith wasn't able to convert her free throws, and the Panthers grabbed the rebound to secure the win.
"Free throws were the difference. They made theirs toward the end and we couldn't buy one there for a while," said Soldotna coach Mark Tuter.
The Panthers finish with a 5-5 record in conference play. Friday's win gives the team an emotional boost as they prepare for this week's conference tournament.
"We've been pumped for this game all week," Shadura said. "... This was a team win. Everyone had a great game, everyone performed and improved."
"I think it's an awesome way to close the regular season. It's really going to get us inspired for next week," said Dreifuerst.
Soldotna boys 60, Panthers 51
The Stars got off to a fast start, then withstood a late Skyview rally to record the win.
"I think having senior night inspired these kids to get after it. We played the best three quarters of basketball I've seen all season," said Soldotna coach Joe Trujillo.
The Stars led 15-8 after the first quarter of play, then extended their lead to 14 points, 33-19, at the half.
The Stars opened the third quarter with a seven-point run and were up by 18, 46-28, entering the final quarter.
The Panthers tried to claw back in the final frame, cutting Soldotna's lead to five points, 52-47, when Zack Rowell completed a three-point play the old-fashioned way a two-point basket and a foul shot with 1:25 left in the game.
The Panthers never got any closer, though, as the Stars were 7-for-10 from the foul line in the closing minute to seal the win.
Matt Hicks led the Stars with 19 points while Tony Besse finished with 15 and Ryan Hall netted 10.
Zack Rowell and Brian Blossom each scored 13 to lead the Panthers.
Skyview coach Dave Blossom expressed frustration that his team doesn't seem to be able to open games with the same intensity with which they close games out.
"They just didn't come out with the intensity they're supposed to come out with," Blossom said. "I told them, 'Go out and start the game as if we're down 10 or 20 points,' but then when we're down 20 points, we actually start playing basketball.
"... Until these guys play with that intensity for the whole game, we're going to struggle."
Trujillo said he was pleased to see his seniors Hall, Dan Spindler, Hicks, Alex Turnbull, Jovi Harp and James Hilbish step up to lead the team in the final home game.
"Those kids found a second batch of courage to pull it out," Trujillo said.
PANTHERS 33, STARS 30
Skyview 8 7 10 8 33
Soldotna 13 6 6 5 30
SKYVIEW (33) Heffner 2 1-2 5, M. Fay 1 0-1 2, Van Ryzin 4 0-0 8, Dreifuerst 0 3-4 3, Blake 1 0-0 3, L. Smith 1 0-0 2, Shadura 1 4-6 6, A. Fay 0 4-6 4. Totals 10 12-19 33.
SOLDOTNA (30) M. Smith 3 0-2 7, McCown 1 0-2 2, Cleveland 0 0-0 0, Stenga 1 0-0 2, Wilbanks 1 2-4 4, Howard 3 0-0 7, Bell 0 0-0 0, Barker 2 0-0 6, Denna 1 0-3 2, Blackburn 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 2-11 30.
3-point goals Skyview 1 (Blake), Soldotna 4 (Barker 2, M. Smith, Howard). Total fouls Skyview 14, Soldotna 20. Fouled out none.
STARS 60, PANTHERS 51
Skyview 8 11 9 23 51
Soldotna 15 18 13 14 60
SKYVIEW (51) Foister 0 0-0 0, Rowell 5 1-1 13, Dolifka 3 1-2 7, Bosick 3 1-5 7, Blossom 5 3-3 13, Singleton 2 0-0 4, McMilan 0 0-1 0, Hering 1 5-7 7. Totals 19 11-19 51.
SOLDOTNA (60) Turnbull 0 3-6 3, Harp 5 0-0 5, Hilbish 0 0-0 0, Hall 4 2-4 10, Besse 4 7-12 15, Besse 4 7-12 15, Carver 0 0-0 0, Roberts 0 0-0 0, Spindler 2 2-2 6, Hicks 7 5-8 19, Seggerman 0 2-2 2. Totals 19 21-32 60.
3-point goals Skyview 2 (Rowell 2), Soldotna 1 (Harp). Total fouls Skyview 25, Soldotna 20. Fouled out Dolifka, Spindler.
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