The coaching staff of the Wasilla girls basketball team came to Saturday's Region III/4A championship game against Soldotna wearing white and red Hawaiian shirts.
The Stars, however, made sure the top-ranked Warriors would have no day at the beach at Homer High School.
Soldotna, in its first region title game since 1993, led after three quarters but fell 44-36 to the Warriors.
It was the third straight region championship for Wasilla, the No. 1 seed out of the Northern Division.
Soldotna, ranked third in the state and the No. 1 seed out of the Southern Division, fell to 25-2 on the year. The Stars' first loss of the year also was to Wasilla, but that was by a 64-49 score.
"This lets us know we can play with them," Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said. "Now, we've got to beat them."
Soldotna burst from the gate as Jennifer Senette canned a 3-pointer to give the Stars an 8-0 lead with 2:15 left in the first quarter.
Senette, who was not a factor offensively in the first game against Wasilla, finished with eight points and helped hold region Most Valuable Player Chandice Cronk to six points.
Overall, Soldotna's backcourt competed well against Wasilla's backcourt, which also received 13 points from Trista White. Cronk and White combined for 33 points in Friday's semifinal victory over Colony.
"It was a challenge for Erin (Wolfe) and I, and anybody else who was guarding (White and Cronk)," Senette said. "Their guards are among the best the state has to offer."
Wasilla's guards cranked up the defensive heat midway through the second period, when the Warriors switched from a man-to-man defense into a halfcourt trap and closed the half on a 12-2 run. The spurt gave Wasilla a 23-20 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Soldotna continued to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors. The Stars got a big night from their frontcourt combination of Hillary Zobeck and Rachel Besse.
Besse finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Zobeck added nine points and seven rebounds. Overall, Soldotna out-rebounded Wasilla 33-28.
Besse's moment in the sun came with time running down in the third quarter. She got the ball at midcourt with Mellissa Mayes to beat. Besse blew past Mayes for a layup to give Soldotna a 31-29 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Senior post player Marsha Schirack did well to mitigate the damage caused by Besse and Zobeck.
Schirack, who didn't score Friday against Colony, came through with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The second half featured four ties and four lead changes. The last tie came at 35 with 5:02 to play. Wasilla outscored the Stars 9-1 to close the game. Soldotna fell victim to 2 of 14 shooting in the final quarter.
"The good thing is we know we can fix the things we did wrong in the fourth quarter," Senette said.
Wasilla had a horrific night shooting the ball in the first three quarters, going just 26 percent from the field. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors upped that mark to 75 percent.
"In crunch time, when we needed it, that's when we had it," Wasilla coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax said.
Hebert-Truax gave credit to the Stars' defense for holding down the Warriors the rest of the night.
"Senette did a good job getting into Cronk," the coach said.
Besse said the game puts Soldotna in a good position heading into the state tournament, which starts Thursday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
"We can play with them, and we showed that tonight," Besse said. "It doesn't make us out-of-control confident, but we're confident of where we are at."
Wasilla boys 54, Colony 49
The Warriors, the No. 1-ranked team in the state and the No. 1 seed from the Northern Division, pulled away in the second half to win their second straight region title and their third in four seasons.
Colony, the No. 2 seed from the Northern Division, was looking for its first state title since 1999.
Buddy Bailey paced Wasilla with 18 points, including 10 points in the pivotal fourth quarter. Luke Schafer added 10 points for Wasilla.
For Colony, Landon Swank had 14 points, Clay Hotchkiss had 12 points and Justin Coffman added 10 points.
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