Defense carried the Nikiski High School girls basketball team to the state 3A championship game. Faith got them through it with a victory.
“This year came down to the same thing it does every year. The final ingredient was faith,” said Nikiski coach ward Romans after the Bulldogs clinched their eighth state title, defeating Barrow 51-41 Saturday at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
Indeed, the Bulldogs found themselves trailing Barrow by five points, 23-18, at the half, but Sarah Herrin drilled a 3-pointer to open the second half and followed that with a nice cut to the hoop for two to tie the game at 23 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
The Bulldogs would trade leads with the Whalers until Becca Carlson hit a 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the period for a 29-27 Nikiski advantage, and Hannah Thompson followed with a nice basket in the paint to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
“In the beginning it was scary. Our faith was tested, but we stayed with it and in the second half, we came out and overcame,” said Nikiski’s Stacey Griffel.
Sasha Auldridge said that her teammates’ belief in each other is what has led to the Bulldogs’ chemistry both on and off the court adversity pulls the team together rather than causing it to come apart.
“We don’t yell at each other when we get down,” Auldridge said.
“Having good chemistry on and off the court makes us better,” said Herrin.
Barrow kept the score close early in the fourth quarter, but after struggling from the perimeter in the first half, the Bulldogs found their range in the second. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Auldridge and Herrin gave the Bulldogs a 43-34 lead with four minutes to play.
The Bulldogs went into their spread offense shortly after that, controlling the clock and the pace of play for the remainder of the game.
“We weren’t going to lose the state championship. We weren’t going to go out and play timid or passive,” Romans said.
The tone of the defensive battle was set early as the game was still tied at two nearly halfway through the first quarter.
Nikiski took a 7-4 lead when Hannah Thompson nailed a 3-pointer with three minutes left in the first quarter, and the Bulldogs finished the period with a 10-9 edge over the Whalers.
Barrow opened the second quarter with a 5-0 run, though, and the Whalers denied the Bulldogs any penetration into their zone defense.
Barrow led by as many as seven in the frame before Herrin hauled in a rebound and drove the length of the floor for a layup, sending the game to the half with the Whalers leading 23-18.
Auldridge said there were some jitters heading to the locker room with a five-point deficit, but Herrin said she was more ticked off than anything else. Nikiski lost just three games during the regular season, and two of them were by one or two points a 41-40 loss to Palmer at the Nikiski Tipoff Tournament in January, and a 42-40 loss on a buzzer-beater shot to Barrow at the Peninsula Challenge a week earlier.
“We weren’t going to let that happen again,” Herrin said.
Thompson keyed the Bulldogs’ defensive performance as she was charged with guarding Barrow’s Piggy Pili throughout the game.
Thompson limited Barrow’s star to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting from the floor. Pili went 3-for-6 from the foul line.
“It was special. It was a defensive performance that happens not all the time, and it happened on the biggest stage,” Romans said.
“She did a good job. Everyone else on Barrow had to step up. That’s different than our team. There’s not one person you can focus on. Everyone contributes,” Herrin said.
Herrin led the Bulldogs with 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Thompson finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Four different players Carlson, Auldridge, Thompson and Herrin hit 3-pointers for the Bulldogs.
Saturday’s win gave Nikiski its eighth state title since winning their first to cap the 1991-92 season. The Bulldogs also won titles in 1993, ‘96, ‘97, 2000, ‘02 and ‘03.
“That helped us know what this is all about, us being freshmen and winning state,” said Herrin, now a senior.
Herrin and her teammates said they appreciated the support from the community, particularly the rowdy bunch in body paint cheering from the front row.
“The community of Nikiski knows what this is all about,” Herrin said.
Herrin and fellow seniors Auldridge and Griffel finish their high school career with a pair of state championships, having upheld the Bulldogs’ long-standing tradition of excellence. Herrin said next year’s team will face a similar challenge to the one she and her classmates faced as sophomores finding ways to fill big holes left by graduating seniors.
“When we were state champions freshman year, there were some big shoes to fill, but we also had a lot to build on,” Herrin said.
BULLDOGS 51, WHALERS 41
Barrow 9 14 6 12 41
Nikiski 10 8 13 20 51
BARROW (41) Williams 2 0-0 4, Packer 0 0-0 0, Villalon 2 1-3 5, Gueco 5 2-4 12, G. Pili 0 4-4 4, Martelle 1 0-0 3, Hopson 2 0-0 4, P. Pili 3 3-6 9. Totals 15 10-17 41.
NIKISKI (51) B. Carlson 1 2-2 5, Griffel 0 0-2 0, Auldridge 2 2-5 7, H. Thompson 6 3-6 16, Herrin 8 3-4 23, Jorgensen 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 10-19 51.
3-point goals Barrow 1 (Martelle), Nikiski 7 (Herrin 4, B. Carlson, Auldridge, H. Thompson). Total fouls Barrow 20, Nikiski 14. Fouled out Gueco.
Nikiski girls 42, Mt. Edgecumbe 26
Nikiski played defense like a pack of ‘Dawgs Friday, swarming the Braves with its man-to-man defense and controlling the glass at the defensive end of the floor to advance to the championship game.
Indeed, the Bulldogs outrebounded the Braves 36-29, including a 17-8 advantage at the Nikiski end of the court.
Sarah Herrin led the Bulldogs with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Sasha Auldridge scored nine and came up with five steals.
Auldridge also did a nice job moving the ball up the court for the Bulldogs against Mt. Edgecumbe’s press.
Nikiski dictated the pace of play through the first half, but led just 18-13 at the half as some shots weren’t falling.
Herrin drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap the first half, and opened the third quarter with another 3-pointer to get the Bulldogs going in the second half.
BULLDOGS 42, LADY BRAVES 26
Nikiski 8 10 12 12 42
Mt. Edgecumbe 6 7 7 6 26
NIKISKI (42) B. Carlson 0 0-0 0, She. Pritchard 0 0-0 0, Griffel 2 2-4 7, Auldridge 4 0-0 9, H. Thompson 3 0-1 6, Herrin 7 3-7 20, T. Thompson 0 0-0 0, Jorgensen 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 5-13 42.
Mt. EDGECUMBE (26) Evan 0 0-0 0, S. Akaran 0 0-0 0, Jorgensen 0 1-2 1, Morris 5 3-3 13, N. Akaran 1 0-0 2, Lopez 0 1-2 1, Wallace 0 0-0 0, Thomas 1 0-0 2, Atoruk 3 1-4 7, Redfox 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 6-11 26.
3-point goals Nikiski 5 (Herrin 3, Auldridge, Griffel). Total fouls Nikiski 10, Mt. Edgecumbe 14. Fouled out none.
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