ANCHORAGE -- "That was a different team."
These were the pregame words Lathrop head coach Tim Hagedon used to describe his team in a 55-51 home loss to Soldotna in December after blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead.
Saturday, these words applied to Soldotna. The same Stars that played a lackluster second half in a losing effort to Wasilla Friday evening in the semifinals of the Alaska School Activities Association Class 4A girls basketball tournament showed a familiar winning side Saturday to soundly beat the Lathrop Malemutes in the third-place game, 56-44.
The Stars warmed up with smiles on their faces and played with intensity and enthusiasm, as they had all year. And the difference showed.
"We weren't just happy to be here," said senior forward Hillary Zobeck. "We wanted to go out with a bang."
Senior point guard Jennifer Senette set the tone early when, just a minute into the game, she brought the ball up the court to the right wing and pulled up for a 3-pointer. This started a 9-2 run that ended on a Senette layup. By the end of the first quarter, Soldotna had a 12-6 advantage over the Malemutes.
Lathrop was able to pull to within six points in the second quarter on the play of sophomore forward Alana Clooten, who had a game-high 17 points. By halftime the score was 26-20 in Soldotna's favor.
After the break, the Malemutes broke through Soldotna's zone defense and put together a 9-3 tear that tied the score at 29 with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
Lathrop took the lead when, following a Rachel Besse bucket, the Soldotna center was called for a defensive foul against Lathrop's Erika Stevens.
Stevens hit the first of her two free throws and Kari Reabold grabbed the offensive board and scored a put-back bucket to put the Malemutes up 32-31 with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
But the Stars battled back with a seven-point run that included an Erin Wolfe trey, and buckets from Amy Breakfield and Besse to end the period with Soldotna ahead 38-34.
Hagedon said another score may have made the difference when his team got the lead in the third quarter.
"If we would've gotten one more bucket, we would've held the ball and stretched their defense," he said. "We might have been able to get Besse into foul trouble."
Third-quarter perimeter shooting opened the floor for the Stars, who pulled away from Lathrop in the final period with a running game. Leading the charge was Zobeck, who finished with 16 points and was named player of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, as the floor was opening up, Zobeck began to sneak off whenever Besse grabbed a defensive rebound and was swarmed by Lathrop players.
Zobeck's craftiness paid off when, on consecutive plays, Besse lobbed football passes that Zobeck converted to layups.
"Since Day 1, if I see another one of our players touch the ball (on a defensive rebound), I'm out," Zobeck said.
Breakfield, who considers herself to be a helper, put up crucial numbers off the bench Saturday with eight points and four rebounds. She said she surprised herself.
"I don't know what it was," she said. "I usually don't score a lot. I usually make assists.
"I guess it was because it was our last game today."
The Stars will graduate seven seniors from their program, including Senette, Wolfe, Breakfield, Besse, Zobeck, guard Lauren Christensen and forward Jenna Syverson. Soldotna got a quality performance from its seniors in their final game. Besse logged a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds, each of the guards scored from 3-point range, and Syverson played 21 minutes with two assists and a rebound.
A misty-eyed Mark Tuter, the three-year Soldotna head coach, said he would miss his septet of seniors.
"When you've invested in these girls the last three years the way I have, these kids have become my extended family," he said. "They were great people on and off the court."
Tuter said he took advantage of an exhausted Lathrop team that took Chugiak to double-overtime the previous night before losing 54-51.
"They're a good, athletic team," he said. "We thought maybe they'd be be a little tired."
He said he was pleased that his seniors were able to end their careers on a positive note.
"It was a pretty good season and a wonderful way to to end the season," Tuter said.
Besse was the leading rebounder and shot blocker at the tournament, while Breakfield had the top field-goal shooting percentage.
Stars 56, Malemutes 44
Lathrop 6 14 14 10 -- 44
Soldotna 12 14 12 18 -- 56
LATHROP (44) -- Alexander 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Reabold 2 2-2 7, Stevens 5 1-2 11, Vaught 0 0-0 0, Donavan 1 0-0 3, Claxton 0 0-0 0, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Clooten 8 1-2 17, Sha. Brown 0 0-0 0, She. Brown 1 0-0 2, Powell 2 0-3 4. Totals -- 19 4-11 44.
SOLDOTNA (56) -- Senette 2 3-4 8, Wolfe 1 1-2 4, Christensen 1 2-2 5, Besse 6 3-4 15, Syverson 0 0-0 0, Howard 0 0-0 0, Denna 0 0-0 0, Zobeck 6 4-4 16, Breakfield 3 2-4 8, Hartman 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 19 15-20 56.
3-point goals -- Lathrop 2 (Reabold, Donavan), Soldotna 3 (Senette, Wolfe, Christensen). Total fouls -- Lathrop 17, Soldotna 8. Fouled out -- Stevens.
Chugiak 57, Wasilla 42
The Mustangs defeated the top-seeded Warriors to earn the girls 4A title at the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A-4A Basketball Championships.
Chugiak was able to take a small lead in the first half, heading to the locker room up 23-18 at the half.
The Mustangs extended their lead by four points in the third quarter, then outscored the Warriors 21-15 in the final frame to put the game away.
Candice Cronk scored 27 points for the Warriors, but the Chugiak defense held the rest of Wasilla's potent attackers to six points or less -- Trista White finished with six points and three other players netted three points.
Chugiak outrebounded Wasilla 33-22, including 10, all of them defensive, by Kelsey Griffin. Griffin also scored 10 points while teammate Erica Putnam led the Mustangs with 21 points and Elyse Hartman scored 14.
The Mustangs also had a great night shooting the ball, hitting 49 percent of their shots from the floor, while the Warriors shot just 31 percent, including 6-for-17 from two-point range and 7-for-25 from beyond the 3-point arc.
East 46, Dimond 39
The Thunderbirds took fourth place with a win over the Lynx.
The Lynx were up by one, 32-31, entering the fourth quarter before the Thunderbirds were able 5to close out the game with a 15-7 run.
Aiesha Brown scored 15 points to lead the Thunderbirds while Ashley Mickens netted 12 points.
ZeeZee Young scored 15 points to lead the Lynx.
East 84, Chugiak 59
East trailed Chugiak 46-41 after three quarters before pulling out a victory to take fourth place.
Ben Eppenger-Robinson led the Thunderbirds with 18 points while Bennie Holt chipped in with 15.
Aaron Loges scored 26 for the Mustangs and Chris Devine netted 23 for Chugiak.
Juneau-Douglas 75, Colony 61
The Crimson Bears earned third place with their win over Colony.
Juneau took an 18-9 lead after the first quarter, extended it by six points in the second quarter, then maintained its advantage through the rest of the game.
Sterling Henderson scored 17 points to lead the Crimson Bears while Bryan Hamey netted 14 and Bryon Wild scored 13. Landon Swank scored 24 to lead the Knights.
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