With an 11-9 regular-season record, Ninilchik's girls weren't supposed to make it to the Class 2A state basketball finals. But the Wolverines weren't interested in making that prediction come true.
Ninilchik defeated Northway 52-49 in Friday's semifinal at the Sullivan Arena to earn a berth in the title game against 2009 runners-up Skagway.
"I don't think anyone counted on us as a possibility," Wolverines head coach Rod Van Saun said.
"I do definitely feel like an underdog," Ninilchik senior Cassie Fefelov said.
Led by senior Lindsey Rohr's 28 points, Ninilchik made it back to the title game after going two and out last year. The Wolverines, making their 19th consecutive trip to state, lost in the title game to Yakutat in Rohr's sophomore year.
Fefelov, like every other Wolverine except for Rohr and Lindsay Schnabl, had never played in the state tournament prior to this season.
"It hasn't hit me yet," she said. "Tomorrow, I'll be feeling the pressure."
"Our goal was to get to state," Van Saun said. "When you get to the state tournament, anything can happen.
"I never got to live it as a kid," Van Saun added. "I'm just thankful for my girls to give me a chance to live it as a coach."
With both teams in foul trouble, Northway chipped away at a nine-point deficit, cutting it to five midway through the fourth quarter. With two minutes to go, the Warriors made it a three-point game. The Wolverines were just 3-of-10 from the line in the final two minutes. Rohr was 2-of-8 during the final 1:09.
But she made up for her poor free-throw shooting. With 33 seconds on the clock, Rohr missed two free throws. After her second miss, Rohr got her own rebound and banked in the put-back, giving her team a 51-47 lead.
"I don't even remember doing that," Rohr said. "It's just instinct."
"That girl knows how to win," Van Saun said.
Katherine Albert, Northway's leader scorer with 26 points, then fouled Rohr for her fifth of the game. Rohr made one, increasing the deficit five with under 15 seconds to play.
Northway made a two-pointer at the horn for a 52-49 final score.
Van Saun said a defensive letdown allowed Northway to get back into the game.
"We went away from playing good defense," he said. "We started fouling. It made it closer maybe than it should have been."
The close score didn't demoralize Rohr. It motivated her.
"I hate to lose," Rohr said. "Whenever it's a close game, it just pumps me up even more."
When Northway switched out of its zone defense, Ninilchik got rolling, Fefelov said.
"When they started playing man-to-man, we started doing what we do best," she said.
"I have great respect for Northway," Van Saun said. "They just never quit."
Skagway girls 46, CIA 40
Cook Inlet Academy's hopes of making the state title game fell short with a loss to Skagway in Friday's semifinal at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena. The Eagles earned a spot in the third-place game against Northway on Saturday.
"We had the scouting report on them nailed perfectly," Eagles head coach Rustin Hitchcock said. But once the Panthers started making their outside shots, his team became demoralized and stopped doing the little things, he said.
"Now all of a sudden, they're getting three points to our one or two," Hitchcock said. "We felt like we had to rush."
After eight first-quarter points for CIA's Kelsie Leaf, Skagway made an adjustment on defense, said Panthers head coach Laura Lebeski. Leaf had 11 total points.
Trailing CIA 22-11 midway through the second quarter, Skagway went on a 14-0 run to end the half leading by three. The defensive switch led to the string of points, Lebeski said.
"We had to make an adjustment on defense," she said. "That threw them on their heels."
Skagway's Kaylie O'Daniel nailed a trey to tie the game at 22 with under a minute to play. O'Daniel then converted a three-point play to give the Panthers their first lead since midway through the first quarter.
The Panthers built an eight-point cushion by the end of the third period. A Tiana McGahan bucket cut the score to 43-39 with under two minutes to play in the game. McGahan paced the Eagles with 16 points.
Immediately after her bucket, McGahan stood her ground and took a charge, giving possession back to CIA. McGahan drove the lane and her bid for a two-point game just rimmed out.
With one minute left, Leaf was at the line in a double-bonus situation. She went 1-of-2 to make it a one-possession game, 43-40, in Skagway's favor.
Hitchcock said his team started a comeback after putting the fact that it was Skagway in the state semifinals out of its minds.
"Once we realized this is just another team, all we had to do was be aggressive," he said.
After Leaf's free throw, Rori Leaverton scored two of her 10 points to give Skagway a five-point lead. With 30 seconds left, Megan Bauder's 3-point attempt was blocked.
After a Skagway missed shot, the Eagles called timeout with 17 ticks on the clock. CIA worked the ball to McGahan. Her shot was no good and Skagway's Jesse Ellis grabbed the rebound. McGahan fouled Ellis to stop the clock. Ellis went 1-of-2 in a double-bonus situation to seal the game with four seconds left.
Ellis led all Panthers with 15 points. O'Daniel followed with 12.
The Panthers' nerves showed in the beginning of the game, Lebeski said. But her girls regrouped and were able to get the win.
"If we had to have a jittery game, this was the one," she said. "We still won."
Shooting just 33 percent from the field and 52 percent from the line also hurt the Eagles.
"Going 12-of-23 (from the line) is not going to win very many games," Hitchcock said. "We just ended up short today."
Panthers 46, Eagles 40
CIA 13 9 9 9 -- 40
Skagway 9 16 14 7 -- 46
CIA (40) -- T. Smith 1 0-0 2, T. McGahan 6 4-8 16, L. Bauder 0 0-0 0, M. Bauder 1 0-0 3, S. Arneson 0 0-1 0, A. Smithwick 2 2-2 7, K. Powers 0 0-0 0, K. Brush 0 0-0 0, K. Leaf 3 5-10 11. Totals -- 13 12-23 40.
SKAGWAY (46) -- K. Sturdyk 2 2-2 7, K. O'Daniel 5 1-1 12, A. Korsmo 1 0-0 2, J. Ellis 7 1-6 15, E. Doland 0 0-0 0, R. Leaverton 4 0-0 10. Totals -- 19 4-9 46.
3-point goals -- CIA 2 (M. Bauder 1, Smithwick 1); Skagway 4 (Sturdyk 1, O'Daniel 1, Leaverton 2). Team fouls -- CIA 15; Skagway 19. Fouled out -- Smith, Sturdyk.
Wolverines 52, Warriors 49
Northway 11 17 3 18 -- 49
Ninilchik 10 19 11 12 -- 52
NORTHWAY (49) -- J. Dillard 1 0-1 2, S. Albert 0 0-0 0, T. Emry 0 0-0 0, D. Demit 4 5-9 15, T. Demit 2 1-3 6, E. Hendren 0 0-0 0, K. Albert 7 11-15 26. Totals -- 14 17-28 49.
NINILCHIK (52) -- B. Motoyama 0 2-2 2, S. Klein 2 3-4 7, L. Schnabl 3 5-9 12, L. Rohr 10 7-17 28, C. Fefelov 1 1-2 3, K. Smith 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 16 18-34 52.
3-point goals -- Northway 4 (D. Demit 2, T. Demit 1, K. Albert 1); Ninilchik 2 (Schnabl 1, Rohr 1). Team fouls -- Northway 22; Ninilchik 18. Fouled out -- K. Albert, Motoyama.
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