Nikiskis Sherra Pritchard keeps a rebound from Ninilchiks Tera Schnabl in the second half Friday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
While Friday night’s lopsided score might indicate otherwise, both the Ninilchik and Nikiski girls high school basketball teams showed themselves to be the teams to watch as this year’s season unfolds.
The Bulldogs looked sharp and started fast to post a 53-27 win, but the Class 2A Wolverines never looked overmatched against Class 3A Nikiski.
In the boys game, the Wolverines were had an upset on their minds as they held the Bulldogs scoreless in the first quarter, but Nikiski scored on a tip-in at the final buzzer to record a 50-48 win.
“It’ll be fun to follow them throughout the year,” Nikiski girls coach Ward Romans said of the Wolverines. “I’m hoping (Ninilchik) Coach (Dan) Leman and I can set it up to play every year. I know we get better by playing them.”
Ninilchik and Nikiski have had two of the most successful programs on the Kenai Peninsula, with the Wolverines winning seven state 2A championships in the past decade and the Bulldogs taking just as many 3A crowns since the 1991-92 season.
The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead thanks to some hot perimeter shooting. Ninilchik, looking to slow down Sarah Herrin, played a box-and-one defense, but Stacey Griffel and Hannah Thompson each hit multiple shots from the outside, including a 3-pointer by Griffel and a pair of 3s from Thompson, to help the Bulldogs to a 19-5 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“We played really good man defense, and we shot lights out in the first half. This team has that potential,” Romans said.
The Bulldogs outscored the Wolverines 17-5 in the second quarter, with Becca Carlson, Griffel and Sasha Auldridge each hitting 3-pointers, but the Wolverines were able to tighten up their perimeter defense in the second half.
“Today definitely showed us what we need to work on and what we do well,” said Ninilchik’s Kendra Moerlein, who led the Wolverines with 14 points. “We were hoping to do a little better, but we did the best we could. It was fun to get to play a bigger school and see how we compare against them.”
The game was an endowment game. According to Alaska School Activities Association guidelines, the game doesn’t count on either team’s season record and proceeds from the game go to the Alaska Endowment for Youth Activities, a fund that eventually will be used to help defray the cost of travel to state events.
While the game might be considered an exhibition, Romans said he didn’t approach it that way.
“It’s a basketball game as far as we’re concerned. They all count,” Romans said. “Wins and losses, we never worry about that. We always try to go out and schedule the toughest games we can. A game is a game. It’s a performance where you can evaluate where you’re at.”
Based of Friday’s performance, Romans said he was pretty excited.
“This is a group, the potential of where we can be in March if we take care of the things we can control, we can be a load,” Romans said.
Herrin finished with 13 points to lead the Bulldogs, with nine of them coming in the second half. Auldridge finished with 12 points, Griffel netted 10 and Thompson scored eight.
Leman also was pleased with the progress his team made in its first game of the season.
“In a game like this, we take away the good things and don’t worry about the mistakes. We had some real nice periods of hustle and we attacked the basket in the second half,” Leman said. “... I don’t think we’re going to see too many Nikiskis on our 2A schedule.”
Nikiski boys 50, Ninilchik 48
Justin Vance tipped in a rebound just before the final buzzer to give the Bulldogs a two-point victory over the visiting Wolverines.
The Bulldogs came back from an early deficit after the Wolverines opened the game by outscoring their hosts 10-0 in the first quarter.
“It was exciting down the stretch,” said Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad. “During halftime, we talked about raising our level of intensity. Finally, by the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth, we were able to muster some intensity. None of the X’s and O’s changed.”
Nikiskis Tasha Thompson tries to keep the ball from Ninilchiks Kendra Moerlein and Krista Leman in the second half Friday at Nikiski.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nikiski took its first lead of the game with three seconds to play in the third quarter when Steven Taylor put back a rebound for two points and a 35-34 edge.
The teams traded leads in the fourth quarter, and Taylor tied the game at 48 with a 3-pointer with just over two minutes to play.
Ninilchik was unable to convert on a pair of opportunities to regain the lead, and Vance’s tip-in came after several Nikiski shots rattle around the rim in the closing seconds.
“I felt like Ninilchik brought 100 percent intensity and effort for 32 minutes, and we snuck one out at the end,” Kornstad said, adding that he hoped his team learned a lesson from the experience.
Ninilchik coach Keith Presley said the game was a good experience for his squad.
“We get a chance to play a 3A school, which is perfect for us. The harder schedule you can get, especially early, you can learn a lot of things from losing, and if you can knock them off, it builds confidence,” Presley said.
Presley credited his team with 31 minutes, 50 seconds, of solid play and said a mental lapse at the end of the game was disappointing, but was pleased to see his team come back after falling behind in the fourth quarter.
Jesse Leman led Ninilchik with 22 points while Brendan Cuffe netted 10 and Austin Vanderford scored eight.
Taylor finished with 25 for the Bulldogs and Zech Hemphill scored 14.
BULLDOGS 43, WOLVERINES 27
Ninilchik 5 5 7 10 27
Nikiski 19 17 11 6 53
NINILCHIK (27) H. Skjold 0 0-1 0, A. Bartolowits 0 0-0 0, Leman 3 0-3 7, Wolford 0 0-0 0, Moerlein 4 5-9 14, Wood 0 0-0 0, K. Skjold 2 0-0 4, J. Bartolowits 0 2-4 2, Schnabl 0 0-0 0, Ellers 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 7-17 27.
NIKISKI (53) Romans 1 0-0 2, Carlson 1 2-2 5, She. Pritchard 0 3-4 3, Griffel 4 0-0 10, Auldridge 4 3-4 12, H. Thompson 3 0-0 8, Herrin 6 0-1 13, T. Thompson 0 0-0 0, Jorgensen 0 0-0 0, Sha. Pritchard 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 8-11 53.
3-point goals Ninilchik 2 (Leman, Moerlein), Nikiski 7 (H. Thompson 2, Griffel 2, Carlson, Auldridge, Herrin). Fouled out Moerlein.
BULLDOGS 50, WOLVERINES 48
Ninilchik 10 13 11 14 48
Nikiski 0 16 17 15 50
NINILCHIK (48) Evans 1 0-0 2, Vanderford 3 2-3 8, Garrison 0 0-0 0, Presley 0 0-0 0, Dwyer 2 0-0 4, Self 0 0-0 0, Wheeler 0 0-0 0, Leman 8 5-8 22, Cuffe 4 2-2 10, Chihuly 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 9-13 48.
NIKISKI (50) Hemphill 4 4-6 14, Taylor 11 2-3 25, Lofquist 1 0-0 2, Moore 0 1-2 1, Cook 0 0-0 0, Ju. Vance 1 0-2 2, Jo. Vance 0 0-0 0, Miller 1 0-2 2, Thurman 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 5-15 50.
3-point goals Ninilchik 1 (Leman), Nikiski 5 (Hemphill 2, Taylor 3). Total fouls Ninilchik 16, Nikiski 15. Fouled out Miller.
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