ANCHORAGE In the end, the Soldotna girls basketball team built a mountain too high for the Crimson Bears girls to climb.
Juneau-Douglas overcame a first-half deficit, but could not repeat the feat in the second half as the Stars kicked off their first Class 4A state tournament in 10 years with a 61-55 victory Thursday at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena.
The win, the first by a Class 4A Kenai Peninsula girls team in the first round at state since 1998, puts Soldotna in a rematch with region foe Wasilla in a semifinal game at 3:45 p.m. today.
The Stars' success came from hitting on all cylinders both in the paint and beyond the 3-point arc. Juneau came into Thursday's game expecting to defend against a strong SoHi post presence leaving Soldotna guard Jennifer Senette the opportunity to score a game-high 24 points, including four 3-pointers.
"Jennifer did a great job shooting tonight, and we did a great job breaking the press," said Soldotna center Rachel Besse, who scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds despite Juneau's concentration on the post.
"We concentrated a lot on their posts, so that left a lot of room for their shooters to get open," Juneau's Kendri Cesar said.
Latasha McKoy of Juneau-Douglas drives past Soldotnas Hillary Zobeck in Anchorage Thursday.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
"I was amazed by their outside shooting," Juneau coach Lesslie Knight said of Soldotna. "Our kids did what we asked them (on defense), but they just scored."
Soldotna's shooters shot just under 50 percent from the field, while Juneau only sank about 35 percent of its attempts.
"We played a really, really good game," Juneau's Letasha McKoy said, "but they had good shot selection and most of their (shots) were going in."
Hillary Zobeck added 13 points for the Stars. Juneau was led by McKoy's 17 points, while Amy Neussl added 14.
Soldotna playing in its first state tournament since winning the title in 1993 started out strong on defense as the Stars held Juneau scoreless for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the game. In the meantime, the Stars poured in six points, and at the end of the period they held a 10-4 lead.
But after Soldotna (26-2) went up by nine points, 19-10, with five minutes left in the second quarter, the Crimson Bears (17-6) clawed back to gain the lead. Juneau edged closer, and then went on an 8-0 run in the final three minutes of the half to claim a 22-21 lead at the intermission.
However, the Bears could not maintain the momentum in the second half as a refocused Stars squad outscored Juneau 21-8 in the third quarter. Besse scored 12 points in the period and Senette added five as Soldotna built a 42-30 lead going into the final period.
Juneau staged another rally in the final period, and narrowed Soldotna's advantage to 55-50 with 1 1/2 minutes to play. But with time winding down the Bears were forced to foul, and the Stars hit enough of their free throws to keep the win secure.
Besse said the win was sweet for Soldotna's many seniors.
"All of us have been playing together for so long it's special to be here our senior year," she said.
The Stars' focus now turns to the powerful Warriors, who are the only team to beat Soldotna this season. Wasilla stayed undefeated in the state of Alaska this year with a 65-52 win over Dimond Thursday.
SOLDOTNA (61) Senette 7 6-8 24, Wolfe 0 1-2 1, Christensen 0 0-0 0, Besse 8 2-3 19, Syverson 1 0-0 2, Zobeck 5 3-5 13, Breakfield 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 12-18 61.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (55) Bus 3 0-0 6, Heard 0 0-0 0, Cesar 0 2-2 2, Dillon 2 0-0 4, Neussl 5 0-0 14, D. Larson 5 0-0 10, McKoy 4 8-12 17, Smith 1 0-0 2, A. Larson 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 10-14 55.
3-point goals Soldotna 5 (Senette 4, Besse), Juneau 5 (Neussl 4, McKoy). Total fouls Soldotna 12, Juneau 17. Fouled out D. Larson.
Marsha Schirack scored 20 points to lead the Warriors to an opening-round win over Dimond.
Candice Cronk chipped in with 13 points for the Warriors in addition to pulling down six rebounds.
ZeeZee Young led the Lynx with 19 points.
The Malemutes knocked off the defending state champions in the opening round.
Kari Reabold led the Malemutes with 23 points while Alana Clooten scores 17 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Ashley Mickens scored 17 points for the Thunderbirds and Aiesha Brown netted 13.
Lathrop got out of the gate quick, taking a 17-8 lead after the first quarter, and was able to capitalize on 13 East turnovers to the tune of 14 points.
The Knights fell to the second-ranked Mustangs in the opening round.
Elyse Hartman led the Mustangs with 13 points while Erica Putnam poured in 12 points.
Kristina Klapperich led the Knights with 21 points.
The Knights opened up with a big first quarter, jumping out to a 17-4 lead, but the Mustangs pulled to within a point, 19-81, with a 14-2 run in the second quarter. The Mustangs grabbed the lead in the third quarter, and gave themselves some breathing room with a solid fourth quarter.
The third-seeded Knights needed three overtimes to fend off the opening-round challenge from the Mustangs.
Joe Reza led Colony with 17 points while Landon Swank scored 13 and Brandon Hyslip chipped in with 10.
Chugiak's Chris Devine lead all scorers with 23 points while Aaron Loges netted 20.
Colony trailed by three points, 14-11, after the first quarter, but came back to lead 30-21 at the half. Cugiak rallied to tie the game at 41 at the end of regulation, holding the Knights to just 11 points in the second half.
Each team scored six points in each of the first two overtimes before the Knights were able to settle it by outscoring Chugiak 8-5 in the third OT.
The top-ranked Warriors opened the tournament with an impressive win over West Valley.
Buddy Bailey scored 18 points for the Warriors while Aaron Roth and Ray Schafer each scored 10. Cody Schierman pulled down 10 rebounds for Wasilla.
Josh Lohrenz led the Wolfpack with 12 points.
Juneau-Douglas advanced to the semifinals on the strength of an opening-round win over East.
Bryon Wild led all scorers with 24 points for the Crimson Bears while Bryan Hamey scored 13 and Alex Heumann netted 12.
Jordan Jamestown had 17 points for East.
Juneau-Douglas was down by two points, 33-31, at the half, but battled back to lead by two, 46-44, entering the fourth quarter and held on to the lead down the stretch.
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