The Soldotna girls basketball team used its height to reach a lofty goal Friday at the Region III/4A basketball tournament at Homer High School.
The Stars routed Palmer 45-26 in the semifinals to reach their first state tournament since they won state in 1993.
Soldotna, the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division and the No. 3-ranked team in the state, used its frontcourt to dominate Palmer, the No. 2 seed from the Northern Division.
Rachel Besse, a 6-foot-1 senior, had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in the game. Hillary Zobeck, a 5-11 senior, contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Stars. The two helped Soldotna out-rebound Palmer 36-23.
Besse scored nine of her points when Soldotna was jumping out to a 16-2 lead after the first quarter.
"We have seven seniors on our team and we had never been to state," Besse said. "We wanted to get to state.
"We wanted to show Palmer right away that we were the better team."
When the two squads met in the regular season, it had taken Soldotna one overtime to show it was the better team. Friday, it barely took a period.
"They shot the lights out," Soldotna coach Mark Tuter said of Palmer in the regular season game. "They didn't do that tonight. I'd like to think our defense had something to do with that."
The Moose shot just 17 percent from the floor in the first three quarters.
Palmer coach Lyle Busbey said his team could never hope to shut down Besse and Zobeck. The plan was to keep pace with them.
In that regular season game, Palmer's offense kept pace with Zobeck and Besse, making the score 16-16 after one quarter. That was in stark contrast to Friday, when Palmer had just two points in the first quarter.
The Moose also struggled to score in a 35-28 victory over Homer Thursday.
"We've regressed five weeks in the last two games," Busbey said. "We didn't execute our offense tonight."
Tuter said Soldotna's defense focused on stopping Palmer's Emily Bolling, who finished with five points. Jenna Syverson, with intermittent help from Amy Breakfield, gets credit for shutting down Bolling.
"She's their best shooter," Syverson said of Bolling. "Amy and I said before the game we wanted to hold her to less than eight points."
After Besse's offensive explosion in the first quarter, she wore a pair of Palmer defenders as a sandwich board the rest of the game.
"They started doubling down on her and that opened up things for me," Zobeck said. "It opened things up on the perimeter as well."
Jennifer Senette had seven points and Syverson had six points -- on two 3-pointers -- to key that perimeter game.
The one black mark on Soldotna's record was 18 turnovers. Tuter said not having Erin Wolfe, who was still sick, at full strength played a big factor in that poor ball control.
Chrissy Lien, a 5-10 forward, provided Palmer some power underneath with 13 points and eight rebounds. However, Lien had just six of those points through three quarters.
Wasilla girls 55, Colony 33
The Warriors, the No. 1-ranked team in the state and the No. 1 seed from the Northern Division, used the guard tandem of senior Trista White and junior Chandice Cronk to run Colony, the No. 3 seed from the Northern Division, right off the floor.
Wasilla earned its fourth straight trip to the state tournament. Colony went to the third-place bracket, meaning that for the first time since 1993 the Knights will not claim first or second at regions.
The Warriors had just a 12-7 lead after the first quarter, but White and Cronk had their way in the second quarter. White had 11 points in the period and Cronk added nine as Wasilla outscored Colony 22-6 to take command of the game.
Cronk finished with 18 points, while White added 15. Megan Stearman also had all 12 of her points in the second half for Wasilla.
Wasilla's backcourt was so dominant that the Warriors did not miss the scoring of Marsha Schirack. Schirack, signed to play at the University of Alaska Fairbanks next year, went scoreless. Schirack did do a good job holding Kristina Klapperich, Colony's main threat, to 16 points.
Kenai girls 50, Skyview 40
The Kardinals, the No. 4 seed out of the Southern Division, pulled away from the Panthers, the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division, in the second half.
Skyview had defeated Kenai twice this season, but Kenai picked up a victory to advance it to the third-place semifinals. The win also ended Skyview's season.
The Panthers had a 24-20 lead at the half, but Kenai got on track offensively in the third quarter. Dallas Baldwin had six points as Kenai outscored Skyview 17-9.
Kenai scored just one field goal in the fourth quarter, but made 11 of 17 from the free-throw line to hold on to the win.
Erin Smith paced the Kardinals with 15 points, while Erica Smith had 11 points and Baldwin had 10.
Christina Colvin scored 12 points to lead Skyview.
Homer girls 56, Kodiak 46
The Mariners used balanced scoring to overcome Annie Withrow's 27 points.
Homer, the No. 3 seed from the Southern Division, advanced to the third-place semifinals. Kodiak, the No. 4 seed from the Northern Division, ended its season.
The Mariners had a 19-17 lead at halftime, but pulled away in the third quarter. Homer outscored Palmer 21-15 in that frame, getting points from six different players.
Bailey Lowney paced Homer with 17 points, while Caitlin Crandall had 14 points and Channing Setterquist added 11 points.
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