Matt Johnson needs a new pre-game speech.
Soldotna's boys head coach has preached playing 32 minutes of basketball all season. But for the third straight day, SoHi found itself tied at the end of regulation at the Class 4A state basketball tournament at the Sullivan Arena. Unfortunately for the Stars, fatigue set in and SoHi blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter against Colony in the third-place game on Wednesday. The Knights defeated SoHi 58-53 in overtime, notching their fourth win over the Stars this season.
"It takes such a toll physically and mentally on the kids and on the coaches," Johnson said.
"I was more mentally tired than anything," said SoHi senior Boomer Blossom.
The Stars beat Dimond in double overtime on Monday and lost to Wasilla Tuesday in overtime in the semifinals.
There's no amount of conditioning that could have prepared the team for three consecutive overtime games, Johnson said. SoHi senior Blaine Carver said he didn't blame exhaustion for the loss.
"That's not an excuse for us," he said. "We played tough. It just didn't happen for us."
"It shouldn't have went to overtime," Blossom said. "We had them. We pretty much just gave them the game."
Though unhappy with ending the season on a loss, Johnson said his team competed hard.
"What more can you ask of this group of kids?" he said. "These kids deserve big kudos for how they've played. Our kids showed tremendous heart."
Colony defeated SoHi by the same margin in overtime during the Northern Lights Conference semifinals on March 5.
"We know each other very, very well," said Colony head coach Jeff Bowker. Like SoHi, Colony has two good shooting guards, one big man and several role players, Bowker said.
Bowker said he wanted to get pressure on SoHi and force turnovers. The Stars committed 21 turnovers to Colony's 12 in the game.
"We didn't take care of the ball at all tonight," Johnson said.
Trailing by one, Colony's Scott Herman nailed a trey to give the Knights a 50-48 lead early in the four-minute overtime. After a Soldotna turnover, Chris Ray launched an inbounds pass deep to Herman. He converted the layup, giving the Knights a four-point lead.
With under a minute to play, Dylon Story fouled Colony's Jared Turner, putting him at the line in a double-bonus situation. Turner made both. Blossom was then fouled as he attempted a 3-pointer. He made all three free throws.
After Herman came down with a defensive rebound, Carver fouled him. It was Carver's fifth foul. Herman went 1-of-2, giving Colony a 55-51 lead with under 30 seconds to play. Story then drove and scored to cut the lead to two with 17 ticks left.
Off the inbounds pass, Robbie Smithwick fouled Colony's John Palmer. He made his first. Palmer missed his second free throw and Blossom grabbed the rebound. He attempted a 3-pointer but couldn't get it to fall. Palmer got the defensive board and was fouled with 5.6 seconds on the clock.
This time, he drained both, sealing the victory for Colony.
"That's what a senior point guard is supposed to do," Bowker said. He said Palmer made big shots when it counted.
The Knights cut SoHi's lead to five by the end of the third period. Buckets by Carver and DJ Stilchen regained a nine-point cushion for the Stars early in the fourth quarter.
Then Colony took over.
The Knights went on an 11-1 run capped off by two Palmer free throws to take a 43-42 lead. Palmer led all Knights with 23 points. Herman followed with 14. Blossom paced the Stars with 20 points. He went 13-of-14 from the line. Carver and Stilchen chipped in 10 apiece.
Blossom gave SoHi a one-point lead after making two free throws with under two minutes to play in regulation. Story went 1-of-2 from the line for a 45-43 Stars lead with 40 ticks on the clock. Palmer tied the game with 23 seconds. Story missed a shot at the horn and the game went to extra time.
Blossom had 10 first-half points and the Stars went into the locker room leading 31-23. SoHi held an eight-point lead after the first period. Two free throws by Story and a Tyler Hahn 3-pointer gave SoHi a 10-point cushion in the second quarter.
Stilchen scored six points in quick succession and Smithwick tallied two of his five first-half points off the bench late in the second. But Palmer put up eight points of his own, including a last-second trey to keep the deficit at eight at the end of the half.
"None of us were good," Bowker said of the first half. "The second half, we executed."
Like last year, five seniors will graduate from SoHi this season. Those include Blossom, Carver, Story, Stilchen and Braylon Blades.
"They play hard, they're fun to coach and they'll be sorely missed," Johnson said.
Knights 58, Stars 53, OT
Colony 6 17 9 13 13 -- 58
Soldotna 14 17 6 8 8 -- 53
COLONY (58) -- H. Eisenhower 0 3-4 3, J. Turner 2 4-6 8, P. McCann 1 0-0 2, J. Palmer 6 9-10 23, T. Enloe 0 0-0 0, S. Herman 5 3-6 14, B. Niver 2 0-0 4, K. Depriest 0 0-0 0, C. Ray 1 0-0 2, H. Summers 1 0-1 2. Totals -- 18 19-27 58.
SOLDOTNA (53) -- T. Hahn 1 0-0 3, D. Story 1 3-5 5, B. Blossom 3 13-14 20, Z. Jackson 0 0-0 0, B. Carver 4 1-2 10, D. Stilchen 5 0-0 10, R. Skjold 0 0-0 0, R. Smithwick 2 0-0 5, E. Withrow 0 0-0 0, J. Barnes 0 0-0 0, G. Bosick 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 16 17-21 53.
3-point goals -- Colony 3 (Palmer 2, Herman 1); Soldotna 4 (Hahn 1, Blossom 1, Carver 1, Smithwick 1). Team fouls -- Colony 19; Soldotna 18. Fouled out -- Carver.
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